Commentary

Miller signing finally gives Sabres fans something to smile about

Updated: July 18, 2008, 6:28 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Finally, a ray of sunshine over what has been a bleak Buffalo Sabres landscape of late -- the signing of No. 1 netminder Ryan Miller to a five-year contract extension.

After reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007, the Sabres missed the playoffs entirely last season. Decimated by the departure of a handful of key personnel to free agency or pre-emptive trades (like the one that saw Buffalo deal smooth-skating Brian Campbell to San Jose at last February's trade deadline), the talented Sabres took a step backward in 2007-08.

[+] EnlargeRyan Miller
Steve Babineau/Getty ImagesRyan Miller signed a new five-year, $31.25 million contract extension Friday, keeping the netminder off the free-agent market after the 2008-09 season.

And with Miller scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2008-09 season, there was much concern in Sabre-land that this coming season would be consumed with rumors of Miller's imminent departure and another period of decline for the team. But those concerns were put to rest Friday as the Sabres locked Miller in to a five-year deal that will pay the 28-year-old $6.25 million annually. The move solidifies a crucial position for the Sabres, provided you believe Miller is the goalie to get the job done for the next five years.

Miller's 2.64 goals-against average last season ranked 24th among NHL netminders and his .906 save percentage was 29th.

"I think it's very important," GM Darcy Regier said Friday of the Miller signing. "It's one of those positions where there aren't enough to go around. And there certainly aren't enough good ones to go around."

While speculation had been that Miller, a native of the Detroit area, would play out the coming season and then test the free-agent market (and perhaps looking to join the Red Wings), Regier said Miller was receptive to locking in with the team that drafted him with the 138th pick overall in 1999.

"Ryan clearly wanted to stay and was very involved in the process, and ultimately he made the decision to stay," Regier said.

The move will also help staunch the flow of negative publicity that has surrounded the team for more than a year after the Sabres allowed co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to leave last summer via free agency. J.P. Dumont and Jay McKee also walked away without the Sabres obtaining any assets in return.

Regier acknowledged that Miller represents another building block in locking in the team's core of young talent that includes Thomas Vanek, Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy.

"These building blocks come in all shapes and sizes," Regier said.

Miller, it's safe to say, counts as a big one.

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby
Harry How/Getty ImagesDespite the conditions, the 2008 Winter Classic between the Penguins and Sabres was a success.

Goodbye to Victoria Cup?
If we were Gary Bettman and/or NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly, we would be on the red phone to Moscow and make it very clear that unless Alexander Radulov is back in a Nashville Predators jersey by the end of next week, the Russians and the IIHF can kiss the Victoria Cup goodbye. The Cup, the first-ever friendly between Russian elite league team Metallurg Magnitogorsk and the New York Rangers, is set for Berne, Switzerland, for Oct. 1, 2008. But the new Russian Continental Hockey League (known as the KHL in Russia) recently poached Radulov, who is under contract to the Preds. The KHL apparently says they'll stop doing that now, but the no-poaching rule doesn't grandfather the Radulov signing. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced on Friday it has suspended Radulov until it looks into the matter. But the NHL, which probably shouldn't have signed on to the exhibition match without a transfer agreement in place, should now pull the plug on the Cup until this is sorted out. The Predators can't afford to lose a talented young player whom they drafted in the first round.

Perplexed in L.A.
Not sure just what to make of the hiring of Terry Murray (58 years young this week) to take over the coaching reins of the long-suffering Los Angeles Kings. After being rebuffed in his attempts to hire junior coaching sensation Peter DeBoer, who landed in Florida, one might have imagined Kings GM Dean Lombardi would go after a younger "teaching" coach, like Kevin Dineen or Mike Johnston. And, of course, there were proven NHL coaches like Bob Hartley and Joel Quenneville available. Yet Lombardi went back to the past in hiring Murray, whose last head-coaching experience was with the Panthers during the 2000-01 season, when he was replaced by Duane Sutter at midseason. Murray had been working with the Flyers' promising crop of youngsters the past four years as an assistant, so it's not as if he can't relate. Still, in the face of other more outwardly appealing choices, this hiring is more than a little perplexing.

The Great Outdoors, Part II
By the end of last season's Winter Classic in Buffalo, the ice was breaking down, the Zambonis got more television time than Sidney Crosby, and the winning goal (by Crosby in a shootout) went with a rooster tail of snow. Despite all that, the event was a roaring success. So, the NHL is willing to tempt the fates and Mother Nature once again, taking their outside show to Chicago and the frigid confines of Wrigley Field, where the Blackhawks will entertain the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on New Year's Day. If it works as well as the Buffalo event, it'll be another banner day for the NHL; so, it's worth the risk. The more of these games the NHL puts on, however, the greater the chances there will be a clunker; weather that cancels the game, a game that no one shows up for or a game in which someone gets hurt because of the elements. That's part of the deal. But until that happens, bring it on.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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