The Goalie Controversy Situation

I’ll admit, up until last night I had a constant headache from the non-stop, dramatic eye rolling I was doing every time I heard the words, “goalie controversy.” While I still don’t think we’re anywhere near “controversy” territory, I’m forced to concede we have definitely ventured past the, “nothing to see here,” phase.

Lindy gave Enroth one of Miller’s starts. That is genuinely interesting.

Aside from my minor concerns that Miller will give Enroth the shiv at his first opportunity (watch your back lil’ Enroth), I doubt this will wind up being a big deal. But… at this point you never know. If I had to bet money on what will happen next, I’d bet that Miller kicks ass on Tuesday, and then everything goes back to normal (meaning, Lindy goes back to his prearranged goalie schedule, Miller plays pretty well in general, Enroth plugs along winning at every [far apart] opportunity, and the Sabres fanbase and media continue to squawk argue debate about which goalie is better for the franchise.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “problem” of two good goalies. Obviously, having two good goalies is not an actual problem, but it sure does make the conversation surrounding Ryan Miller a lot more intense. Unless Miller is perfect, there will be calls for Enroth from the fanbase. When Miller is really, really, really far from perfect (as he has been his last few starts), those calls become a roar; a roar audible from the players’ bench in the arena, actually.

In my opinion, in this environment, it’s really difficult to have a reasonable conversation about the goalie situation, which is frustrating, because this situation is absolutely chock-full of interesting angles:

Will Enroth’s strong presence push Miller to be better, or will it further throw him off his game? How is Miller going to respond being benched? Would one bad game from Enroth throw water on the whole conversation? Will Enroth ever actually PLAY a bad game? At what point does Enroth start stealing starts with regularity? How is the the goalie situation effecting the locker room at this point? Is Miller injured? Can Lindy use Enroth to essentially let Miller work through whatever is ailing him (mentally or physically) and then restore the normal goalie rotation? Does an NHL roster HAVE to have a clear #1 and #2 goalie? Is there some way for Lindy to just play the hot hand for an entire season? How much is this “goalie controversy” fan/media generated, and how much of it is actually real? Do you think Enroth and Miller are friends? How much would the new players effect locker room chemistry and could this be effecting Miller’s performance? What on earth is up with this? Is it possible that the players’ previously indisputable support of Miller could be eroded if Enroth’s strong play continues? How much is everyone thinking about Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask these days? And probably the most interesting topic in my opinion- Can Lindy coach himself through this goalie situation?

In my opinion, Ryan Miller’s personality comes in at about #45 on the list of “relevant talking points.” Basically I think you can boil that entire topic down to this: When the goalie plays poorly, the fans get mad at him. When he’s not apologetic enough, that gives people “justification” for their anger. That’s it. That’s the entire thing. It’s not more complicated than that, and it’s not particularly unique to Ryan Miller or to Buffalo. Sure, there are certain elements of Miller’s personality that don’t mesh well with Buffalo’s personality, but basically, people are mad at him because he’s not playing well. It’s not rocket science, and we probably don’t need to bust out the Freudian analysis.

I do understand that a player’s personality effects how the fans feel about him, and that in turn effects the conversation surrounding whatever is happening on the ice. I understand why so many people are preoccupied with Miller’s postgame demeanor, I just think that if we continue to dwell on this aspect of the situation we’ll be missing the forest through the trees.

Things are actually getting interesting around here. There is so much to talk about that DOESN’T involve dissecting a player’s personality and then speculating wildly on what tell ourselves we know about him.

I’m an ardent Ryan Miller fan (what can I say? I love his unique brand of crankiness), but I can’t deny that I’ve grown increasingly intrigued by Enroth’s strong play. I’m a little surprised by my willingness to consider that Enroth might be the Sabres’ best option. If Enroth is the better goalie for the team right now, then… maybe he should play until he’s not? I dunno. Regardless of where you fall in the Miller vs. Enroth debate, I think most reasonable people can agree that if Ryan Miller is at the very top of his game, the Sabres will be in good shape. With that in mind, does Lindy gear his goalie decisions towards getting Miller back on track? Or does he just go with the best chance of winning on any given night? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m certainly eager to see what Lindy does next.

I wouldn’t call any of this a “controversy”, but Lindy definitely has a situation on his hands. Consider me officially intrigued.

17 Responses to “The Goalie <del>Controversy</del> Situation”

  1. 1 mikespub November 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    I don’t mind Ryan being grumpy at all, do what you must to win, if channeling the angry old man is what it takes so be it. This is a whole lot of no big deal. Reminds me of the Sauve & edwards debates from back in the day. I agree with you. I put Ryan in net against the Jets and he makes them pay, and all is right with the world

  2. 2 Mike November 7, 2011 at 6:40 am

    I think a lot of the venom directed toward Miller from the fanbase (and to a lesser extent, the media) is just ridiculous. So he’s sometimes defensive about how things went. Does anyone really doubt his work ethic or preparation? And he certainly holds himself accountable. So he’s a bit grumpy at times. Whatever.

    Miller is a Vezina winner at his best, and an average NHL starter in his bad years. That makes him a very good NHL goalie. And it’s unlikely Enroth will turn out to be that good. So I really think Miller should get the majority of the starts this year – the large sample size of his performances says it should give us the best chance to win. But who knows, maybe Enroth will push him. Or even turn out to be the better goalie.

  3. 3 Christopher Kennedy November 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

    To me, it’s really not about Miller and Enroth’s play. I have usually preferred the way that Buffalo plays when their backup is in net, be it Lalime, Conklin, Biron, or anyone else. The whole team plays a better defensive game. When Miller is in net, they seem to want to take stupid chances and leave it to Miller to save them.
    If Enroth is as good as he’s been looking, the team may just start playing with him the way that they do with Miller. Then we’ll see how good Enroth is.

    • 4 West of the Cascades November 7, 2011 at 8:50 am

      I think this is right, and it’s what that Sabres player was getting at in saying they play harder in front of Enroth than in front of Miller — I’d take it to mean that the team trusts Miller to bail them out when they’re too aggressive (or too lazy), whereas they’re still learning to trust Enroth to do that. Then when Miller doesn’t, the fans get on him instead of on the team for collectively letting down.

      I think in about two weeks Lindy will have coached this back to the point where Miller is the unquestioned # 1 and this will fade back to a good situation for the Sabres. At least, I hope so …

  4. 5 Katebits November 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Thanks for totally reasonable, and not-at-all venomously angry comments, guys!

    Like I said, the most interesting aspect of this to me is Lindy. Playing Enroth on Saturday was BOLD, and way out of character for Lindy. I assume that both Miller and Enroth are both highly motivated and meticulous in their preparation. It’s up to Lindy to manage them in a way that maximizes their effectiveness. If it were my team (but seriously, what do I know?), I’d be trying to use Enroth to get Miller back on his game. What that means in terms of the goalie rotation, I really don’t know. I agree that the team plays better in front of Enroth which makes me wonder if Lindy’s decision to sit Miller might be the equivalent of pulling the goalie mid-game in order to shock the team. Sort of like saying, “You are letting your guy down right now.” I mean, obviously Miller has played terribly the last few starts, but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the team no longer believes in him. He’s the leader of this team, and has been for years and years. I have to assume that the entire locker room heard the message loud and clear when Lindy played Enroth Saturday. It’s all very intriguing to me.

    • 6 Mikey B November 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm

      Long time listener, first time caller?

      I have to agree with the general consensus that the team plays better when Enroth is in net. To me, that means that the team still DOES have complete confidence in Miller, because they seem a bit more likely to make a decision like, “Should I skate hard to backcheck? NAW, Crunchy’s got this.” I was in Buffalo last week, (I live in Florida), and was lucky (unlucky?) enough to see the Flyers game on the 2nd. The team came out looking like crud until Ruff pulled Miller, then suddenly they started playing much more defensively sound and putting real pressure on offense. Should Miller have stopped 2 of those 3 goals? Absolutely…but everyone is gonna have a bad night. Miller bails his defense out of bad nights all the time, they need to do the same. If they’d woken up after the FIRST goal, they’d have won that game.

      I like Enroth, and I like that he gives the Sabres a chance to win any game he’s in, but what the “Trade Miller” people aren’t realizing is that most of the shots on Enroth are easy shots that he gets a good look at with no traffic. Miller faced 11 shots in the 7 minutes before he was pulled. Enroth faced 15 shots for the remaining 53 minutes. I think that’s the real telling statistic.

      Vs. Philly
      Shots per minute Miller: 1.57
      Shots per minute Enroth: 0.28

      Also, I bought a Miller home jersey at the arena fan store before the game. Maybe it was my fault he played poopy. :) Anyway I didn’t return the jersey, so I’m a believer. 73 save shutout coming up against the Jets. Lets go Buffalo!

      – Mikey

  5. 7 Kitten November 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you Mikey for backing up what I keep telling everybody! I am spending the rest of the season counting shots on goal and comparing when Miller is in the net against Enroth. Miller was god a few nights ago facing 43 shots and keeping the team in the game. Now you (meaning collective insane Buffalo fan base who does this all the time with all teams) want him gone because he totally whiffed one game?

    You’d be cranky too if you just had your worst day at work ever and you are soaking wet, smelling like Secretariat’s saddle pad and some dork shoves a mic in your face and asks “You got booed, how does that make you feel?”

    And remember, he committed the unpardonable sin of choosing a hot actress for his bride, instead of a one of the charming local puck bunnies. Jealous much Buffalo.

    In the past when he’s crabby and sucky at the same time, it generally later comes to light that he’s had an injury.

    Yes, I too am a Miller apologist.

  6. 8 Mike W November 8, 2011 at 1:34 am

    I must admit it. I follow the Sabres as much as I can considering A. I live 600 miles away in Blackhawk territory and B. I’m a Redwings fan first.

    I started watching the Sabres last year when someone mentioned to me Miller whom I knew was USA Hockey’s Goalie played for Buffalo. I’ve probably seen more Buffalo games than Wings game since, When Ryan Miller is right, and on his game, he’s robo-goalie. I’d trade Detroit’s first line straight up for him when he’s on his game. On the other hand, I’ve seen several meltdowns. I was incredibly surprised Lindy pulled him from the Philly game last week on Versus because one of the goals was scored on horrible and might I add lazy defense. The final goal, I had to see the replay 4 or 5 times before I even saw that it went in the net and not off the crossbar. That first one though, was a typical Ryan Miller meltdown goal. Right through the 5 hole traveling about 2 miles per hour.

    As I said I live 600 miles away and see the Sabres no more than 4 times in any given month thanks to Versus and NBC, so I’d be interested in your opinion on this. Is it possible/probable/likely that Miller lost the team either late in the regular season or in the post season last year? I wonder this because at times, I see the goals he’s giving up, and with a little defensive help, he’d have a shutout. Other times I see the guys going through walls for him. Out of 3 games so far this year, I’ve only see ONE partially good defensive game. And that was only for like the first 15 minutes.

    Just the thoughts and observations of an ‘outsider’.

  7. 9 trevor November 8, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    This season when JE was slated to start I felt like we were going to win (for good reason, apparently), and the opposite when RM started. I don’t want to be called a t-hole, but I AM a little hockey Nostradamussy and all.

    Kidding aside, I was flat-out shocked Ruff started E Saturday night, mostly because it was the right decision. In fact, as you alluded KB, he should at minimum start until he loses. Not even a question, in my mind.

    I’ve never thought as highly about M as most fans have over the years, but I’m not trying to be snarky here. Whether the team simply plays better for E because they think they have to, who cares? It’s all about wins.

    And honestly, I wouldn’t lose a bit of sleep if I woke up morning to read “Miller to Ottawa for Spezza and Auld.”

  8. 10 trevor November 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Oh, and there totally is no “controversy”; it’s clear who the starter should be at this point.

  9. 11 Mikey B November 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    There’s one more thing that the “Trade Miller” camp seem to be forgetting. I think we can all agree that even on a bad day, Miller is at the very least a solid goaltender. (Lets not forget that in the same game Miller got pulled, he robbed Jagr like a mugger in an alley.) Let’s just say for the sake of argument, the Sabres trade Miller and Enroth gets the starter job. Who would be the backup?

    Personally, I *LIKE* having two goalies on a team that can both steal games. Last year, everyone was practically calling for Lalime’s head on a platter. Do we really want to go back to that? Seems to me that it’s a GOOD thing to have two good goalies. Trading a solid goaltender for skaters when you don’t have a good backup would put us right back where we were last year. Frankly, I’d rather have Miller and Enroth than Enroth and a healthy Crosby. Superstars play pretty. Depth wins championships.

  10. 12 trevor November 9, 2011 at 11:20 am

    If the goal is the build a winner and win multiple cups, you will always have to give up talent to get it. Right now Miller is an asset; in two weeks if he doesn’t play any better than he did last night against the Jets, there won’t be any need to discuss trading him because he will have lost significant trade value – at least if the goal is to beef up the center position with a guy like Spezza or David Perron (which had better be the goal or else we don’t need to have discussions about cups anyway).

    I think most people would agree that the sabres can’t really be considered a favorite yet. But in my mind this has just as much to do with the coaching as it does any of the players. I’ve always hated Peter Laviolette, but look at the way all of his teams have played. I’d take him in a heartbeat in buffalo, where after about five years now the excuse for poor performance at home is that the team’s trying to be “too fancy.” Really? There was nothing fancy about those home losses to tampa or philly.

    I have no emotional connection to these players. I’m not basing my opinions about Miller on anything other than the facts that he has a high cap hit and only one butterfly goalie has won the cup in the past 15 years. I’ve never thought he was the irreplaceable superstar most people do, mostly because the scouting reports don’t lie. Shoot high on Miller with accuracy and you will bury at least three goals a game. It’s not 2006 anymore. Then there’s just my gut. Miller has gotten his payday. He’s easily got five more good years in him, but his hypersensitivity is wearing thin. I just don’t see this guy winning a cup.

    This team made some great moves over the summer. I hope this was just a start, as even Regier seemed to allude, because the work isn’t done. We’ve got a guy making 4m playing on the fourth line and another 4m player sidelined who should’ve been waived over the summer (I believe I wrote that on this blog back then, and now look at Hecht). This team also still lacks that Mark Recchi-esque influence that’s so important to playoff runs. Thankfully Vanek and Pominville have made that leap to true leadership status because this team’s probably only a move or two away from being dominant for several years. And yes, if it takes trading Miller to get there, that’s what you do (remember Herschel Walker?)

  11. 13 Mikey B November 9, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I suppose I’m one of those fans that does have an emotional attachment to my favorite teams’ players. Still, I do understand that sometimes trades have to happen in order to make the team better. I also don’t think that there’s anyone truly untouchable on a team, so if they had to deal Miller, that’s what they have to do. My main point is still that you can’t deal your main goalie (or your backup) away without having a solid backup. Plus, as good as I think Enroth is, he is simply untested. He had a great run at the end of last year and he has continued it into the beginning of this season, but he’s still only got less than 30 NHL starts. It’s simply not enough to hang cup hopes onto.

    On top of that, yeah, Miller gave up 5 goals last night, and I would have liked to see him stop a couple of the ones that went in, but at least 3 of those can be blamed directly on the defense. I love the Sabres defense corps too, but they have got to stop leaving dudes all alone in front of Miller. They just haven’t done that when Enroth is in net, and I don’t think Enroth has been TRULY tested with those types of chances against. But once again…even if they went with Enroth, who would back him up if they traded Miller? There aren’t really any solid goalies out there right now, which means they’d have to trade for one, and most teams with good goalies aren’t gonna get rid of ’em just now.

    Having said all that, I’m loathe to say that I don’t think the Sabres are cup contenders just yet, I predict they make it to a game 6 in the 2nd round this year. Maybe I just predict that because I don’t want to see them exit in the 1st round. What can I say, I’m a fan that leads with my heart. :)

  12. 14 Katebits November 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks so much to everyone for the incredibly thoughtful comments!

    Trevor, I would also trade Miller in a heartbeat if I knew it would lead to a Cup. I doubt there is a Sabres fan anywhere who wouldn’t. But I disagree that a.) trading Miller would lead to a Cup and b.) there is a team out there for whom trading a major forward asset for a major goalie asset would make sense. If a team is trading for Miller, they want to win, and if they want to win, they’re not giving up a Spezza or a Perron.

    I don’t necessarily disagree that Miller is overrated, I just don’t think he’s the biggest *problem*. And I don’t think that trading him is the best solution. While Enroth is paying suuuuper well, I’m not ready to rely on him as a #1. His numbers in Portland were pretty pedestrian. So, while he certainly could wind up being an top flight NHL goalie, he hasn’t proven anything of the sort yet. Miller has. He’s a known quantity. I do think there is a LOT to be said for the idea that elite goalies are waaaay overrated within the current cap structure, I’m not at all convinced you get BETTER goaltending with Enroth and someone else as the backup. Not to mention the fact that Miller is signed for this year and next year. This isn’t a Luongo situation where we’re stuck with him for the next decade.

    BTW Trever, I made some AMAZING chili the other night with your chili powder! SERIOUSLY GOOD.

  13. 15 trevor November 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Trading Miller would be a risk, certainly. And I think you’d definitely need to get a goalie in return, which is why I mentioned Auld in a trade for Spezza.

    I don’t think Miller will be traded at all, much less this year, because even if he’s struggling he’s still a good goalie and having two really good goalies is generally a good problem to have. (Of course, this can usually only go on for one season before one of them gets pissed.)

    Then again, all of this is highly irrelevant since all you good folks will probably never see a championship until I’m dead. Trevor Luck is very contagious, yo.

  14. 16 trevor November 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Kate, that’s great! I’m glad you like the chili mix!! Where did you get it? Did you order from me online and I didn’t realize it was you? I don’t recall sending a package to “Ms. Kate Bits, HockeyTown, USA”

  15. 17 Mikey B November 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    I dunno Trevor, maybe Trevor Luck and Buffalo Sports Fan Luck will cancel each other out? ;)

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