Amid the chaos of the first day of NHL free agency, the Vancouver Canucks landed a big name in goalie Ryan Miller.
He’s their guy, the one Vancouver’s club under new management coveted. After some wining and dining in this suddenly sunny city, Miller signed with the Canucks on Tuesday. It’s a three-year deal worth a reported $6 million per season with a modified no-trade clause.
A Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic silver medalist four years ago, Miller comes to the Canucks after more than 10 years in Buffalo and a brief stint last season with the St. Louis Blues, the latter team he struggled with during the stretch drive and playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Canucks missed the playoffs. Prior to that, they were eliminated in the first round two years in a row.
“I like to think this team can get their mojo back,” said Miller during a press conference.
The Canucks feel Miller gives them an experienced goaltender and it’s clear they felt Eddie Lack isn’t yet ready to be a full-time starter.
“We’re going to do everything that we can do to make the team competitive, make the team into a playoff team this year,” said general manager Jim Benning.
“I felt it was important to get a goalie with experience. Over the years, he’s played a lot of games. He gives us that experience we need in net.”
Lack, 26, was the back-up to Roberto Luongo for most of last season. And then Mike Gillis shipped Luongo to Florida after almost two full years of goaltending controversy.
The move made Lack the starter.
He was in net for 19 straight games while the Canucks, under former coach John Tortorella, tried to keep their playoff hopes alive. The attempt was grossly futile and changes have since swept over the franchise.
Gillis is gone. Tortorella gone. And Lack is now the No. 2 guy once again.
Lack seemed to be taking the move with class, reaching out to Miller via Twitter, writing on the social media site: “Hey @RyanMiller3039 I’m open for dinner :) #datenight.”
“He’s going to give our team confidence. He’s a guy our team can rely on back there,” said Benning of Miller.
There is history between Miller and Benning.
Then a scout for the Buffalo Sabres, Benning recommended during the 1999 draft that franchise take Miller, which the Sabres did in the fifth round.
It was just over a year ago the Canucks entered the draft with two starting goaltenders. Less than 10 months later, both Cory Schneider and Luongo were gone.
The Miller signing signifies another shift in goaltending in this market. He’s the third established starter to come through the organization since the 2013 draft.
Miller admitted he doesn’t know Vancouver’s goalie coach Roland Melanson, but said he was “excited” to work with him.
“I’m always open to being coached,” said Miller.
“I’m a little bit more stubborn in that you’re really going to have to explain to me why it’s going to work for me and I’m going to push back, but if they’re a good teacher, they’re going to push me hard and … explain why it’s going to work.”
While the new regime has signed their goalie, their attention must now turn to finding players that can score. An argument can be made that should’ve been the top priority.
That was a major problem last season. The Canucks finished 28th in the league, with an average of 2.33 goals-against average.
Even with declining production from the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler — the latter was traded to Anaheim on Friday — it’s hard to imagine the Canucks being as inept at scoring as they were under Tortorella and his grinding system that never fit the players on the roster.
Can Nick Bonino, acquired from the Ducks for Kesler, produce another career year? Can he even get back to his 22-goal, 49-point mark of this past season on a more skilled and free-flowing Ducks team?
The Canucks had an interest in unrestricted free agent Jarome Iginla. He would certainly bring experience and the pedigree of a proven scorer who put up 30 goals and 61 points while at the age of 36 for Boston.
The connections were there. But would the price have been worth it? Would Iginla truly have been going to a contender if he came to Vancouver, where management, coaching and roster are in a massive overhaul?
It didn’t pan out. Benning said the Canucks were in on the Iginla sweepstakes. The Colorado Avalanche won them, signing the veteran winger to a three-year, $16 million deal.
“Whether it doesn’t happen today … maybe it’s the secondary market in the next few days or the next week ,” said Benning. “We still want to add.”