Vulgar Opinions: Vanek And Miller
With Sabres Captain Jason Pominville making a hasty exit yesterday leaving two left of the old core whose cap hits can’t be taken lightly (Weber, Sekera) and that people can’t universally admit suck (Stafford). I’m speaking of course of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller. Since from now until the offseason, I’m probably going to read dozens of opinions that are going to make me hate the internet I figured I’d get in on the action early.
Signed through: 2013-2014
Cap Hit: $7,142,857
This is an: Underpayment
Why We Should Keep Him: Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the line above. I’ve got an end-of-season post coming that will make you feel stupid. Vanek is one of the best players at that pay scale. People are quick to compare him to the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin, but those guys count $8.7 and $9.5 million against the cap respectively. And while I wholeheartedly support getting younger, you need at least a few players with proven NHL success to tend to the flock. Vanek is also, with the departure of Pominville, probably the team’s best two way forward at this point…which is bad because he’s merely decent defensively. He’s a calm voice without being uninspiring or boring like Pominville who has high standards that you can see every time he hits the ice. Fans will call him lazy or inconsistent, but neither of those things is actually true.
Why We Should Deal Him: Did you see what Pominville brought back? Holy Christ. He’s not a game changer like Crosby (although he isn’t paid like one), and his new contract will probably be moderately to significantly higher. He is prone to getting hurt and probably a guarantee to miss 5+ games every year and be ineffective for 5 more because he’s playing injured. He has playoff experience, but hasn’t really been a major factor in winning a playoff series. That’s not necessarily a good reason, but it’s a reason. If your preferred model is a team full of defensively responsible two-way players, Vanek doesn’t quite fit that system, thought most cup winners have an elite offensive player and eat his faults.
Signed through: 2013-2014
Cap Hit: $6,250,000
This is an: Adequate Payment?
Why We Should Keep Him: It’s really difficult to analyze goalies because so much of their contribution depends on the team in front of them. In that, it’s also hard to judge young talent. Remember when Steve Mason was awesome? Make a list of the top ten goalies in the NHL right now and then count how many were drafted in the 4th round or later. I bet it’s more than half. Having a known commodity in net is valuable. Doubly so with Miller because he’s not a guy that depends on elite reflexes, rather preparation, positioning, and intelligence. Those are things that stay with you a long time meaning he could be one of those guys that’s effective well into his late 30s. He is the team’s most recognizable face, a very intelligent and distinct voice, and he always wants to be better. His next contract probably won’t be much different than his current one, which is manageable. Unless there is an elite team missing a goalie and nothing else, AND holding a deep pool of prospects, the market is thin and the return will be underwhelming.
Why We Should Deal Him: Because I don’t like him. In all seriousness, because so much of a goaltender’s skill is tied to his team, I’d rather address the latter first. My preference is to find a good/streaky goaltender in the $3-4 million range and concentrate on the skaters. Antti Niemi, Chris Osgood, Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward, and J.S. Giguere aren’t elite talents (and Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick maybe are). The point is, it’s easier to win without elite in net than it is without elite in front of the net. (Hello 1999 Buffalo Sabres.) With a commitment to rebuilding, a ton of picks, and the cap hit coming down, you can make a lot of justifications for moving Miller, especially if someone like St. Louis with a goalie logjam wants to send someone back allowing you to hedge your bets of at least one of Hackett, Allen/Halak/Elliot, Enroth, or Leggio becoming a decent NHL starter.
Unless someone is sending a stupid over-payment, I would keep both. You can’t completely start fresh, you need at least some proven talent to bring your young kids along. I think that unlike Pominville, Connolly, Gaustad, and Roy, Miller and Vanek are the right proven talent to have doing that, especially since each seems to show leadership qualities. Both players are incredibly smart in their respective ends of the ice, and there’s no way in hell I want to let that go.