If you are a Buffalo Sabres fan hearing the name “Ryan Miller” is sure to incite some sort of emotion. Whether it is admiration for all that he has done for the team over the years, or discontent with never advancing past the Eastern Conference Finals, some sort of feelings are conjured up. In past moments of disappointment however, blame was seldom ever squarely placed on Millsie’s shoulders. It was always that his defense let him down with a barrage of injuries, or that his offense forgot how to score. Miller was given free passes left and right for those exceedingly frustrating “soft goals” that he has become known for, due to the fact he was loved all throughout WNY.

Make no mistake, at one point he was one of the best goaltenders in the world, but playing in a hockey town like Buffalo there always seemed to be more to it. Somewhere along the way however Miller went from being a fan favorite to a louse. The people that routinely screamed “MILLER TIME!!!” in past years became the same people begging for a trade and a chance to see Jhonas Enroth get the full-time gig in between the pipes. My question is: where did it all go wrong?

Perhaps expectations became so enormous after reaching the Conference Finals in both 2006 & 2007 that this was bound to happen. Qualifying for the playoffs only twice in the past six seasons tends to put a damper on a team’s cornerstone, regardless of how widely treasured he is. Reaching international stardom during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver only added to that pressure. When you only lose to the country that invented the sport by the skin of your teeth, it’s hard not to expect more and more. Maybe as fans we did this. Maybe we built Ryan Miller up so high that his fall was inevitable. Winning it all would certainly cure this sense of disdain and exasperation for Miller, but for how long?

It seems that for as much as fans in the beginning worshiped him, Miller is currently paying back all of those “free passes” twofold. We no longer believe in the guy who owns the record for most wins in net in Buffalo Sabres history. No, we now expect him to fail. It is extremely rare to see a goalie leave while still playing at the highest of levels. They always come back for one more year because that’s what the competitor inside of them tells them to do. As admirable as that is, it also creates situations like this. Situations where fans expect the same level of play as five years ago and when they don’t receive it they grow discouraged. Since the Sabres last Conference Final run Miller’s SV% has never dipped below .906. Before last season his GAA hadn’t climbed above 2.64 since 06-07’. The guy can definitely still play at a high level, just not high enough for Sabres fans’ liking.

At this point there isn’t much left to do other than to part ways. Darcy Regier has gone on record this offseason stating that he is waiting for the trade market to further develop before seriously fielding offers for Thomas Vanek or Ryan Miller. That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that this can only drag on for so long. It’s time management accepted that from a valuation standpoint the days of getting the greatest return for Miller are long gone. If Miller’s “declining” (and I say that delicately) play isn’t enough of an indication of that, his growing tussles with the local media & exceeding frustration with teammates as well as himself are the nail in the coffin. Like the Stock Market, NHL GM’s buy low and that’s a pretty accurate indication of where Miller currently stands in Buffalo. With value being a second-tier concern, it’s now about allowing both sides to move on. The team owes him that much, if for nothing else but respect for their former hero.

With the plethora of young goalie talent in the Sabres organization, timing is about as prime as it can be with these sort of things. For those of you reading and thinking that you are beyond sick of Miller’s prima donna attitude and lackluster play of late, you need to realize it still isn’t going to be easy to move on. Similar to seeing a guy like Jason Pominville go last year, no matter how right the move may be for the future of a franchise, the always-burdensome human emotion finds a way to strike. Do I think Miller’s rapport with the community is beyond repair? Yes. Do I think that it is well past time for the team and Ryan to part ways? Yes. Will I regret writing all this when he dons a new team’s sweater for the first time? Most likely, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t what’s best. At the end of the day despite the fact that emotion plays a large part in the game, hockey is still a business. It’s time to step in line with the rest of this Sabres team and allow the future to begin as a whole. Bring on the next goalie that will give the team a chance to win the Cup that Miller was never able to for the fans of Buffalo. But before he leaves, management, his teammates and most of all the fans owe him one final GIGANTIC “thank you.”

Tweet of the Week:

As they say, laughter is the best medicine…


Have your own opinion on this week’s column or a topic you want featured in next week’s column? Get at me on Twitter: @BradleyGelber