WHISTLER, B.C. — Ryan Miller still can’t quite believe where ended up.
In his first training camp with the Vancouver Canucks, the veteran goalie never envisioned patrolling the crease for a team that already had a wealth of talent at his position just 15 months ago.
But with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider now gone — both casualties of a goaltending controversy that refused to die — the Canucks have turned to Miller in hopes of calming what has been the hot-button issue surrounding the club in recent years.
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“It is surprising if you go back in time, but with the way things played out and the environment of the NHL, things change quite a bit, sometimes quickly,” said Miller. “I’ve never been on a team where something hasn’t changed. I’m happy to have the opportunity. It’s a team that has a great history.”
After a long career with the Buffalo Sabres that was followed by a brief stint with the St. Louis Blues, Miller signed a three-year deal worth US$18 million on July 1 and is the undisputed No. 1 goalie on a Vancouver team that missed the playoffs in 2013-14 for the first time in six seasons.
“It’s a new start for me, but it’s a continuation of my career,” said the 34-year-old. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I want to work to continue to do things that make me proud. Getting back to the playoffs and challenging and pushing and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup is my goal. I want do that before I say it’s a career.
“(I’m) getting down to the point where you really have to start making these seasons count and you look back on your experiences and try and draw from that.”
After being asked a bevy of goaltending questions on a daily basis during the Luongo-Schneider era, Miller’s new teammates are glad that distraction has been put to rest — at least for now.
“The last few years that’s kind of been the story coming into camp: ‘Who’s going to play? Who’s going to be here?”‘ said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. “Ryan coming in is such a good guy, a calm guy. He brings calmness to that situation and that can only be good.”
But Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin joked that media and fans won’t let the topic go away that quickly.
“Until he has his first bad game, then we’re going to talk about it again,” Sedin said with a smile. “That’s the way it is. It’s not going to change this year. We need our goalies to play great. That’s no different from other teams. We’ve got Ryan coming in and he’s a proven goalie. He’s a top goalie in this league so we’re very excited for him.”
Eddie Lack played 41 games for the Canucks last season, but first-year general manager Jim Benning identified a veteran as something the team needed to get back in the playoffs.
“From a manager’s standpoint goaltending is the most important place on the team. It’s the only position the guy plays 60 minutes,” said Benning. “When we talked about improving our depth … part of that was improving our depth in goal, and that’s what we tried to do.
“Every team I’ve been associated with, we’ve always had two good goalies so on any given night your goaltending can give you a chance to win.”
Rookie head coach Willie Desjardins added that while he believes Lack is a good netminder with a bright future, having a player of Miller’s pedigree leaves a lot less to chance.
“You are more comfortable when a guy’s shown it to you. I’ve said that about our team. The nice thing is that this team’s been on top before so you know that they have that ability,” said Desjardins. “It’s the same thing with goaltending. Sometimes you have to go with a guy that hasn’t been in that role, but you’re certainly more comfortable when you know a guy’s had success.”
The Canucks also have Jakob Markstrom on the roster and both Benning and Desjardins suggested the team could carry three goalies to start the season, but it’s clear Miller is alone atop of the depth chart.
“There’s some confidence there in knowing that I’ve been entrusted with jobs in the past and I feel like I’ve handled those jobs fairly well and have been close to reaching my goals,” said Miller. “(I’m) just going to try to use that experience and reach the goal this time.”
Miller, who put up respectable numbers with a string of bad Buffalo teams the past few years and is joining a club that has been in a rut since making it to within a game of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup, said there is a lot of reason for optimism heading in to the season.
“Even seeing a possibility, I was excited for it. It was something where I saw the core group, I saw what happened in the last few years,” said the native of East Lansing, Mich. “I think move some of the distractions out of the way and get the guys feeling good about themselves and get some of the mojo they had going here — mix that with some of the young guys and the new guys and you can have some pretty good energy going.”
But Miller does come with some question marks surrounding his own game and was criticized following the Blues’ first-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks this spring.
“We really just did not have our best game going. When you don’t have that going, mistakes are going to come out,” he said. “I’m going to be critiqued for everything I do. It wasn’t a great finish, but we move on.”
Miller had some of his best moments in Vancouver — he was named the top goalie at the 2010 Winter Olympics as a member of the U.S. team — but also allowed Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal in the gold-medal game against Canada.
“I had a very positive experience here,” he said. “Obviously that didn’t end well but the overall experience was good.
“In a lot of ways I feel like I have some unfinished business in a lot areas of my career. You don’t always go in a straight line and get to your goal. It’s been a lot of highs and lows.”
Having unfinished business is something a lot of these Canucks, especially the core that went to the Cup final, know all about.