By John Vogl
Buffalo's disgruntled fan base has kept Ryan Miller and the Sabres on a short leash this season. After Friday night's debacle, it's time to wonder if that leash has become a noose for the team's longtime goaltender.
Miller has received a lot of abuse during his decade in Buffalo, especially during the past few years as the Sabres tumbled from the rank of contender. The fans were all over him during an embarrassing 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers.
“They just want to see the team win,” Miller said (audio is here), “and we haven’t done it. We haven’t lived up to any kind of expectation. It’s been years and years of not getting it done.
“You don’t win over Buffalo fans by losing hockey games and putting up mediocre seasons. The last three years have been pretty much that.”
As Miller says, a lot of the angst has built up because the Sabres fail to have success. After getting eliminated from postseason contention, that makes it four times in the last six years and seven times in the last 11 that Buffalo's fans will sit home while other 16 other cities cheer for the Stanley Cup.
Friday night was different, though. The fans repeatedly mocked Miller after two goals bounced into the net off skates of teammates. He finally responded with a mocking wave, much like Patrick Roy did during his tumultuous last game in Montreal.
"If they can dish it out, they can take it back," Miller said.
But should either side have to take it anymore? Miller has one year left on his contract. As he noted, Roy won two Cups after getting out of Montreal, so the grass can be greener elsewhere. Much of his life is outside Buffalo now, so why not start fresh instead of getting mocked?
"It’s very disrespectful after what he’s done for Buffalo, what he’s done for this team, this organization and this city,” defenseman Adam Pardy said of the mocking. “It [ticks] you off when you hear that. He’s been great all year. We’ve had wins when we’ve had no business winning games. The reason was Ryan Miller.
“To hear that is just absolute disrespect for what he’s done for this organization.”
Meanwhile, the Sabres and their fans are arguably further away from the Cup now than they were in 2007-08, the start of the last failed rebuild. Miller should have value to organizations looking for a former Vezina Trophy and Olympic silver-medal winner. Why not look to move him?
"He has done a lot for this franchise," Thomas Vanek said, "but fans are entitled to whatever."