Armed with a new five-year contract, Buffalo Sabres
goalie Ryan Miller
will do whatever it takes to help his team return to playoff contention this coming season.
"I started with a new trainer here and I've been focusing a little more on nutrition," Miller said. "I think it will help me with my energy level. I'm also identifying some things with (Sabres goaltending coach) Jim Corsi and my good friend Terri Barbeau, who has been my goalie coach since I was 16 years old."
In his third full season with Buffalo in 2007-08, Miller appeared in a franchise-high 76 games, going 36-27-10 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. On March 28, 2008, Miller played in his 73rd game of the season, breaking the club record for most games played in a season, which had been held by Grant Fuhr, Dominik Hasek
and Martin Biron
. His strong effort wasn't enough to vault the Sabres into the postseason however.
"I've been going over some things to work on monthly during the season, so I have some goals outside of just winning hockey games -- performance goals and skill goals -- to work on to become a better goalie," Miller said. "Getting back to some of those basic attitudes and looking to improve on certain skills that have treated me well in the past will help me throughout this coming year."
Miller's five-year extension will begin in 2009-10. In April, Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn called the signing of Miller and forward Jason Pominville
to long-term deals as the team's top priorities this summer. Pominville, a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL's most gentlemanly player in 2007-08, has one year remaining on his contract before becoming a restricted free agent.
"The fact Ryan signed spoke volumes of his commitment to stay in Buffalo," Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier said. "We did look at a long-term deal, but both parties agreed on five. There's a lot that comes into play with contracts today, like the age of the player and what the contract means beyond the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement since it really is unknown at this point.
"The bottom line is Ryan didn't want to become a rental player or go to a team on a one-year basis to win a championship because he wants to do that here in Buffalo," Regier continued. "We certainly feel he's one of the top young goalies in the game. In many cases, it's not all about statistics, but supply and demand. When you look at Ryan, we feel he's only going to get better and we (Regier, ownership and the coaching staff) feel we can win a championship with him in goal."
The 28-year-old Miller, who celebrated the new extension at his brother's wedding on Friday, is excited to have a deal in place.
"It does help you focus on just hockey and I was comfortable in Buffalo and they wanted to have me here so it is great to get a deal done," Miller said. "There are going to be some unique challenges with it from the public perspective and media side as far as expectations, but for me it's a commitment from the team that says they want to go with the core group of guys that we have and try to build a winner. I think we have a good group of guys so the decision to stay was easy."
For me it's a commitment from the team that says they want to go with the core group of guys that we have and try to build a winner. I think we have a good group of guys so the decision to stay was easy. - Ryan Miller
The deal certainly makes sense, considering the goalie was Buffalo's steady force during the 2007-08 season. Miller helped limit the opposition to a collective 2.84 goals-against average in 82 games. This came despite 78 of the 201 total man-games Buffalo lost to injury last season were from defenseman -- and that doesn't include the 80 games veteran Teppo Numminen
missed after undergoing open-heart surgery in September.
"A lot goalies don't come into their own until mid-30's but we feel Ryan has already played and achieved so much in his time here," Regier said. "The growth he experienced playing 76 games last season really took its toll. Most goalies his age aren't logging that type of ice time and it was a learning stage. Now we just need to give a good support."
Miller took full advantage of the off-season with some well-earned time off.
"I feel good and I feel like I'm in good shape," Miller said. "I've had a little bit longer to work out and get myself back to neutral. Before I was really pushing it to get back into shape at a peak level, but I feel ready now. Plus the season even starts a little bit later this year, we've probably got an extra six days before we get underway, which will help too.
”I always feel like I'm in good shape but this time, I feel a little more rested and I got a little more stuff taken care of this summer. I've addressed some on-ice and off-ice issues to make me a better player in the long haul."
After playing 76 of 82 possible games last season, Miller said gained some valuable experience.
"I felt I learned a lot," Miller told NHL.com. "A lot of thought goes into playing a lot of games, but the bottom line is winning, so as a goalie you're always going to have pressure on you to help steer the team. For me, it's just a matter of preparing the best way I can and learning a lot about how to play night in and night out. There are certain times when you hit the wall and eventually you're drained but you just have to move forward and keep working. At the same time, you don't want to use up the reserve energy tank."
Miller made 34 consecutive starts, from Jan. 24 to April 3, and registered a career-high three shutouts. He earned career victory No. 100 Feb. 10.
In an effort to provide help for Miller and bolster the blue line, Regier acquired defenseman Craig Rivet
from the San Jose Sharks
on July 4, along with a seventh-round pick in 2010, in exchange for Buffalo's second-round picks in the 2009 and 2010 Entry Drafts. In 74 games last season, Rivet had five goals, 30 assists, 104 penalty minutes and a plus-3 rating. The club also is hopeful defensive prospects Mike Weber
and Marc-Andre Gragnani
will contribute on a full-time basis this season.
The team also signed 34-year-old backup goalie Patrick Lalime
to a two-year contract July 1.
"I don't know Patrick personally, but I do know him as a goaltender just from watching him," Miller said. "He is a great goaltender and, from what I heard, a great person. I'm always excited to meet great people in hockey and it sounds like he is one of them."
Miller has appeared in 205 regular-season NHL games, compiling a record of 112-68-19, with a 2.69 GAA and .908 save percentage. In 2006-07, Miller was named to the NHL All-Star Game and established a franchise record for victories, going 40-16-6 with a 2.73 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Miller, selected in the fifth round (No. 138) of the 1999 Entry Draft, won the Aldege "Baz” Bastien Award in 2004-05 as the American Hockey League's top goaltender, as well as top goalie honors in the 2004 and 2005 AHL All-Star Game skills competitions. While attending Michigan State, he won the 2001 Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top collegiate player.