BUFFALO, N.Y. — His season over, Ryan Miller will be getting on a flight home to Southern California next week. Where he heads after that is anyone’s guess.
The Buffalo goalie still has one year left on his contract, but he acknowledged Saturday his future with the Sabres is uncertain. This is a team suddenly in transition after a tumultuous lockout-shortened season.
The Sabres went from hopeful contenders to dejected rebuilders in the span of three months. They fired longtime coach Lindy Ruff and traded three veterans, including captain Jason Pominville, for prospects and draft picks.
It’s not out of the question that Miller, the face of the franchise and star of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, could well be next.
"My status, it’s really up to Darcy and the direction they’re going to go," Miller said, referring to general manager Darcy Regier. "It’s definitely signs of a little bit of a shift in the long-term plan, so I don’t know. … Ultimately, it’s not going to be up to me. We’ll see."
Miller spoke while Sabres players cleaned out their lockers a day after closing the season with a 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders. It was Miller’s 500th career game and 269th victory — both franchise records.
Miller would prefer to stay in a town he’s grown fond of since making his Sabres debut during the 2002-03 season. But the former Michigan State star and 2010 Vezina Trophy winner says he’ll be at peace with whatever happens.
"Just trying to be open to any opportunity," said Miller, who became the NHL’s 20th goalie to play 500 games with one team.
"If it’s to be in Buffalo, I’m going to savour my whole career somewhere I like to be. That’s great," he said. "If it’s somewhere else, I’m going to have to accept it and move on. That’s sports."
Regier hasn’t specifically discussed his intentions regarding Miller or leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who also has one year left on his contract.
The Sabres, however, have adopted a policy of acquiring assets for players not deemed part of their long-term plans. And Regier did suggest after trading Pominville to Minnesota this month that he might not be done retooling the roster.
Vanek is also unsure of his future, and reiterated on Saturday he’s not interested in staying in Buffalo if the team intends to start from scratch.
"I’ve said it before, if it looks like it’s a long rebuild, it probably makes the most sense for both parties to move on," said Vanek, who led the team with 20 goals and 41 points in 38 games this season. "I don’t know what the plan is."
Defenceman Christian Ehrhoff isn’t sure what to expect this off-season.
"When you trade your captain, there shouldn’t be any surprises," Ehrhoff said. "Personally, I definitely hope to have (Miller and Vanek) on the team next year, because they’ve been really good players for us."
Another question is who will take over as coach. One candidate is interim coach Ron Rolston, who went 15-11-5 after Ruff was fired.
In finishing 21-21-6, Buffalo missed the playoffs for the second straight season and fourth time in six years. And the Sabres have not won a playoff series since 2007 when they made their second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
That’s doesn’t come anywhere close to the Stanley Cup-contending aspirations owner Terry Pegula expressed upon purchasing the franchise two years ago.
Pegula has been one of Miller’s biggest backers, at one point suggesting he intends to have the goalie finish his career in Buffalo. Miller would like nothing more, and spoke of the loyalty he has for the city and the team.
"It has been about my heart being here, and wanting to be here. And I’m going to continue to play that way," Miller said. "I’ve enjoyed my time in Buffalo. If I get to spend more time, it’s going to be a lot of fun. If not, I’ll try to bring the same qualities I brought here somewhere else."