Ryan Miller has been the main stay of the Buffalo Sabres for years. He emerged out of the shadow of Domnik Hasek to win his own Vezina trophy, attend the All Star festivities, and even play an Olympic tournament that was one for the ages. For a few years it looked as if he would bring glory to the team, the city, and the entire upper north west of New York State. The reality is that Terry Pegula stepped up to late to make Miller a champion in the home uniform.

When you look at Miller, and his own individual talent level, there are any number of teams that could, and probably should step to the plate and put in a worthy offer. But the teams that will be most attractive to him, with his no trade clause, and for his future are not so many. At age 33, the Lansing Michigan native has to be aware of how narrow the window is for him to win, even if he believes he can be an NHL starter another seven or eight years.

The list of teams that even if he’s traded to, he probably would not sign a new deal with include teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Florida Panthers. The Flyers have to be every goalies nightmare just based on history. The Lightning, Jets, Panthers and Stars are all in some stage of rebuild and growth and only one is really in advance of the Sabres. It might save a nervous general manager’s job in the short term to acquire Ryan Miller and escape the league basement, but if he doesn’t stick around, whatever assets were expended to bring him in are pure loss.

There are exactly two teams that standout as being ideal places for Ryan Miller to launch the next phase of his career. The first spot is a team with an absolutely star studded roster of mature NHL talent, a hall of fame player turned coach, and is handy to major east coast cities, has and has a very metropolitan lifestyle where mere athletes blend in. The other is an old Canadian market with absurd amounts of young talent, a couple of wily veterans and love of hockey that extends to the depths of the earth.

In Washington playing for the Capitals Miller could give up worrying about goal support, forget about being the only recognizable name that didn’t make fans despair, and simply concentrate on winning. There would be no years long wait for the team to reach peak, and little need for the dramatics he’s indulged in over the past few seasons to draw some emotional engagement out of his teammates.

The Edmonton Oilers are the other obvious landing spot. Today they sit 10th in goals for but tied for worst at 5 goals against per game. Adding Miller just months after the additions of new captain Andrew Ference, David Perron and Denis Grebeshkov would be the signal that now is the time to budding superstars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov. The Oilers may be built around their young stars, but today’s roster is about the same average age as the Boston Bruins team that won the cup just three years ago.

One period of any game this season is enough to convince anyone Miller is healthy, hungry and at the top of his game. That same period is more than enough to convince anyone objective observer that the gap in skill, commitment, and execution between himself and his nearest team mate is similar to the gulf between the NHL and the ECHL.

If there is a more pressure packed position in any team sport than hockey goalie, I’ve never heard of the sport. Not only are they the last line of defense, they are often relied upon to coordinate the skaters in front of them, and provide a catalyst to kickstart the offense. At this time of year the masked men’s work gets its greatest regular season focus. Nearly everyone is healthy, there isn’t much wear and tear on the body coming out of training camp, and winter colds and flus are still weeks away.

Comparing the standings for the league, and the stats for goalies makes it clear that some goalies just aren’t supporting their teams. Calgary’s 3-0-2 record is not quite what people expected of them to open the season. When you realize they’ve scored just one more goal than they’ve allowed and that Karri Ramo who the Flames billed as the best goaltender outside the NHL, and his partner in net Joey MacDonald each sport a .897sv% you have to wonder how long the team can keep its head above water. If there is a saving grace to the Calgary Flames situation in net it must be the less than four million spent on the two goalies this year.

At the other end of the province, Devan Dubnyk’s collapse from .920sv% a year ago, to .829 is baffling. He’s got an improved defense, a coach and captain who are all about responsible play, and yet of the 54 goalies to take the crease this season, he’s 51stin save percentage. Where is the man who played 38 of 48 last season and finished 14th in save percentage and kept the Oilers perilously close to a playoff spot? His two previous seasons show last years mark is a little high, but not a complete fluke. What gives?

Is Cory Schneider’s goaltending skill operating on west coast time? Was it seized by customs after he was traded from Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils? While gaining familiarity with a new team can cause goaltenders issues, and moving across country isn’t easy on anyone Schneider was traded in June, and had all of training camp to get on the same page as his defense. Right now, he’s pretty bad. He’s allowed 6 goals on 53 shots.

On the other hand, close examination of the careers of Semyon Varlemov and Jean-Sebastion Giguere, might have closed a contract with a nefarious entity in the not to distant past. The pair have faced a combined 171 shots through five games. In those games they are unbeaten, with four goals given up.  This leaves the Avalanche as one of two unbeaten teams, and at the top of numerous key team metrics.

Anyone who has watched even a single Buffalo Sabres game knows how well Ryan Miller is playing. Unfortunately for him, his NHL experience is about equal to the combined games played of all the healthy members of the defense. If you were to count minutes played, he’d probably dwarf them. As of yet, none of his defense has displayed an aptitude for a key role as a powerplay specialist or shutdown defender. On the surface it is baffling to look at a team record of 0-5-1 and realize the goalie is the best player on the team. But that’s exactly the case, Ryan Miller has made 144 saves on 153 shots in just four games. It takes an incredible about of talent to build a team where the goaltender has a .941 sv% and a losing record.

Over the past couple months, a number of people have wondered if perhaps it wasn’t time for the C to come off Chara’s jersey. The most persistently named new destination for the captaincy has been Patrice Bergeron. There is no argument anyone can make to me that Bergeron would not make a good captain, but that isn’t the question. The question is if he would make a better or at least different captain.

Last season Zdeno Chara was 16th in scoring for defenseman in the NHL, in the 08-09 season he was 12th and had six more points. The 08-09 season was as all remember the year he just about walked away with the Norris trophy dominating all three zones.  In 08-09 Chara also had the #9 scorer for forwards in Marc Savard, the #31 in David Krejci, the #55 in Mark Rechhi, the #57 in Phil Kessel, #81 in Michael Ryder, to support him. That’s five forwards in the top 100 on a team that was second in goals scored, the team also boasted seven forwards who scored twenty or more goals.

In the 2009-10 season the highest ranked Bruins forward was #84, Patrice Bergeron. That’s three positions lower than the fifth highest player for the previous years team.  So pinning the lack of offense on Chara is a non starter, especially when none of the defenseman ahead of him on the points last had anywhere near as many as his league leading shots on goal.

Another point to consider is leadership qualities. Chara has in his time here displayed remarkable conditioning, has managed to chase down Ilya Kovulchuk from behind to break up a break away without taking a penalty, has fought some of the (other) biggest, meanest men in the NHL, played an entire season with a dislocated finger, averaged more than one hundred each blocked shots and hits while playing through other injuries and not quitting on his team ever.  Bergeron has played through similar situations, and led in key stats for his position. The two of them have irreproachable work ethics, and tenacity that is probably not great for their long term playing prospects. I doubt either one will be playing in the NHL at Recchi’s age.

Both Bergeron and Chara are quiet, soft spoken guys who do a great deal of community service and make themselves available to the press are on a regular basis. They play hard, practice hard and if anyone doubts the heart of these two they just don’t know hockey or either player.

One quality lacked by both players, and probably the only one you can use as a legitimate attack on either as leaders is that neither is likely to be the guy who goes into the locker room after the team played a poor period and kicks over trash cans, throws things and calls people out by name. Neither guy is a fire eater in the way Phaneuf and Pronger are said to be. On the other hand, I don’t think I can picture Toews, Lidstrom, or Crosby doing any of those things either. Ray Bourque probably wasn’t big on those qualities either.  While I think that the team needed at least one fire-eater all season, I don’t see someone who can be both an elite level player and fulfill that role on the roster.  Recchi has been mentioned for his passion, but I don’t think he qualifies as elite, and isn’t an improvement over either Chara or Bergeron in other categories.