Ryan Miller poised for bounce-back season

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Image: Vancouver Canucks

With the Canucks in rebuild-on-the-fly mode, it is very clear they will rely on the aging veterans at the core of the team for any success next season.

After trading fan favourite Eddie Lack, the intense spotlight will be on Ryan Miller to improve on a 2014-15 season that was mediocre. Miller’s workload isn’t likely to get any lighter with the Canucks easing Jacob Markstrom into the backup role which, in essence, puts the Canucks fortunes squarely on Miller’s back.

Cast away those thoughts about the Canucks trading away Lack for a minuscule return or the fact that Miller was signed for too much money at a year too long. The only issue at hand is if Ryan Miller has the ability to post a bounce-back season next year and I believe there is ample evidence that he can.

If there is one thing I have learned following the Vancouver Canucks and the NHL in general, it is that goaltending is the one area for which the masses and media alike are the most clueless. Even the analytics world is playing catch-up with the goaltending position. The reality is those watching and reporting draw their conclusions on a goalie’s performance based on end result, where as, goaltending experts look at what happened prior to the end result in conjunction with the end result to assess performance.

I spoke with goaltending expert Kevin Woodley of InGoal Magazine to discuss all things Ryan Miller. If you have never heard Kevin speak nor read any of his articles, you should. Woodley is one of the few out there that has intimate knowledge of the goaltending position and has the ability to articulate the complexity of the position in understandable terms.

I cringe when I hear that Ryan Miller had a “bad” first season with the Vancouver Canucks with this assessment solely based on Miller’s .911 save percentage in 45 games last season. It seems to me that anyone watching Miller’s play game-in and game-out should have noticed long stretches of very good play alongside some stretches where he struggled. Miller was inconsistent, but not “bad.”

Woodley explains this a little further…

There were some good stretches and some less than good stretches last season. You are going to get that with Ryan Miller. Miller relies more on rhythm and timing than most goalies. He tends to have a little more ups and downs with that style. In speaking with Miller, he was cutting himself some slack statistically last year given the changes in style he was working on. Miller expected to be better as the season went on and that the payoff for all the hard work would show itself later in the season.

Perhaps the pervading negativity towards Miller’s season stems from the fact that the knee injury suffered against the New York Islanders on February 22 negated any chance of that “payoff” at the end of the season and playoffs being validated. On a side note, I was at Nassau Coliseum that fateful night, sitting three rows behind Miller, and prior to the injury he was playing some of his best hockey of the season.

There is that matter of age though. Miller is 35 and conventional wisdom contends that it is tough for a goaltender of that age to improve. Miller plays an extremely cerebral game and Woodley doesn’t particularly buy the argument that Miller’s age is a massive negative given his skill set.

His (Miller’s) ability to read and anticipate the game is next level. His read’s will only get better with another year with the same team and in the same conference.

Woodley reminisced about a particular sequence in a game on October 23 against the St. Louis Blues that highlighted Miller’s “next level” reads. Watch this one closely. Vladimir Tarasenko, a player known to shoot from any and everywhere, has the puck in a prime shooting area (“high danger” for war-on-ice followers and a “green shot” for disciples of Steve Valiquette), but decides to pass off the puck to Jori Lehtera in what should have been a gaping open net to shoot on. Focus on how hard Miller digs his right skate in to push to the left and make the save on Lehtera look easy. Essentially if Tarasenko fakes the pass and shoots stick side, Miller would not have been able to recover as he was already positioned for the hard push left. With Miller, you get world class reads against world class players.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8X4TwtNZ3I

If you want further evidence that a goalie of Miller’s age could improve on an off-year, look no further than our old friend, Roberto Luongo. Loungo posted a .907 save percentage in the 2012-13 season with the Canucks and was able to raise that to a .921 save percentage with the Florida Panthers last year at the ripe old age of 36.

The reality is that Ryan Miller has been looked upon negatively by many, largely because of the huge popularity of ex-Canucks backup Eddie Lack and in the context of a contract that Jim Benning overpaid on. There is no doubt that Miller’s first season with the Canucks was an inconsistent one that came to a roaring halt with an unfortunate collision on Long Island. None of that matters now.

Woodley does not own a crystal ball, but he does understand goalies and he is very aware of the work Miller has been putting in with Rollie Melanson to tone his aggressive and instinctive style down.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Miller have a bounce-back year with the adjustments he has made to his game, to a new goalie coach, and a new conference.

Canucks fans can only hope so.

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Ian Lusher Canucks Contributor
@ianlusher

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