The first shoe has dropped.
Size 18, too.
We see fewer and fewer old-style, blockbuster hockey trades any more in the NHL’s salary cap era, but the Friday Night Special between the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues that sent all-star goalie Ryan Miller to the Blues was surely one of those.
Sabres captain Steve Ott went to Missouri along with the 33-year-old Miller, the third Buffalo captain (Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek) to be traded in less than a calendar year. Going to the Sabres were goalie Jaroslav Halak, winger Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional second rounder.
Now that’s a hockey trade, ladies and gentlemen.
Ott, Miller and Halak are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer. The rebuilding Sabres, meanwhile, now have a collective 10 picks in the first two rounds of the 2014 and ’15 entry drafts.
But that’s for tomorrow. For today, the Blues hope Miller, probably four years removed from his best hockey, can be more productive behind Ken Hitchcock’s excellent defence in St. Louis and help end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought. They managed to make the deal without sacrificing any of their top prospects or youngsters, although some might debate the actual difference between Halak and Miller.
“Ryan Miller this year made me feel it might be only a five or six per cent upgrade,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong. “But that’s how you get better.
“Only making the playoffs is no longer the goal. Having success and playing for a championship is.”
Rarely have big-time goalie moves been made near the deadline, and rarely have major netminder deals of any kind produced major success in the same season they were made. Patrick Roy, of course, moved from Montreal to Colorado in the fall of 1995 and won a Stanley Cup in Denver the following spring.
Dwayne Roloson nearly did something like that twice. He was dealt to Edmonton partway through the 2005-06 season and helped the Oilers get to the Cup final, although he was hurt in Game 1.
Five years later, he was picked up in a trade by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and carried to the Bolts to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final before losing to Boston.
Miikka Kiprusoff, finally, was dealt by San Jose to Calgary in November of 2003 and he carried the Flames to the seventh game of the ’04 Cup final before losing to Tampa.
Can Miller do something similar for the Blues, a club knocked out of the playoffs by Jonathan Quick and the L.A. Kings the past two years? St. Louis has their Olympic tandem on the back end with Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, the kind of protection Miller hasn’t had in western New York for several seasons.
The Sabres, meanwhile, may just be getting started. Both Halak and Stewart could be peddled elsewhere before next Wednesday’s deadline. Ottawa — Buffalo GM Tim Murray’s former club — is said to have serious interest in Stewart, a big scoring winger.
Stewart has 15 goals this season and another year on his contract with a $4.15 million (U.S.) salary cap hit. The Sabres, by the way, picked up the difference in salaries between Miller and Halak, worth about $300,000.
A deal of this size and impact could now get the market moving. Until now, the most significant deal this winter has probably been the Jan. 22 swap between the Rangers and Predators that saw Michael del Zotto head to Music City in exchange for Kevin Klein, a deal of two defencemen.
The biggest deal of the season until Friday occurred way back on Oct. 27 and also involved Buffalo. Thomas Vanek packed his bags and was transferred to Long Island, with Matt Moulson heading the other way. The Isles sent their first-round pick this June to the Sabres in the deal, although they can defer that pick to next year, risky in that the likes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be available in the ’15 draft.
For Murray, hired this winter by new team president Pat LaFontaine, this was his first major attempt to put his mark on the rebuild of the Sabres. Earlier in the day he’d indicated no deal was imminent, but both players were scratched hours later before the Sabres took the ice against San Jose.
Some wondered if Murray might have been able to get more assets by trading Ott and Miller separately. Part of the Buffalo GM’s willingness to get the deal done might have been the suggestion Carolina could be willing to part with its starting goalie, Cam Ward.
“We were extremely happy with the deal,” said Murray. “If you’re happy with it, then make it.”
Murray, who has paid his dues in the business before getting his first shot as a GM, still has Moulson to trade and says everybody but his kids are available.
He’s trying to build a champion from the bottom up. Armstrong, on the other hand, runs a team highly motivated to take a serious shot at winning it all now.
Two GMs with whose interests overlapped.
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