Originally written on Buffalo Wins  |  Last updated 5/3/12

 

I'm borrowing this post form the fine folks at Dear God, Why us? Sports. Be sure to check out their awesome website which is dedicated to snark, the Bills, the Sabres and the greatest invention in the history of the world...Cuss words. You can also follow them on Twitter.

“I think we have good players. There has to be a decision about what kind of game we’re going to play. Yeah we had our shortcomings. I think that there’s enough talent in that group of guys to be on a winning hockey club, but we didn’t get the job done and that takes some soul searching. I don’t want to waste seasons.”

“Goaltender reflects team, team reflects goaltender. You guys are writing for the fans who like to talk about hockey, and it’s always a chicken or the egg, you know whatever. It’s always about goaltending at such a high level, and a goaltender steals a game and the goaltender is the difference. Yeah, I understand that whole part of it. I also see the importance of being a complete team.”

“You have to prove you’re a good team over the course of a season. I don’t think we ever qualified and I don’t think we ever stepped up to that level we talked about.” - Ryan Miller

 

To listen to Ryan Miller’s end of the year press availability is to listen to the great question in Buffalo sports in the last fifteen years. How can someone so intelligent and compelling make you want to have Joe Pesci place your head in a vise? (NFSW due to Joe Pesci.)

Listening to Miller on the CBA, you can hear the articulation necessary from the players perspective to prevent getting raked over the coals again by the National Hockey League. Then you hear him talk about how the team may not have been up to the expectations of being a contender, all the while during the season claiming the team needed no change to succeed. It’s like, who are you man?

I happen to be a big fan of Ryan Miller. I believe in his competitiveness on a team that sorely lacks such emotions. Often, when things get dicey near the net, Miller is one of the first to jam a glove into someone’s craw. On the ice, his demeanor is at a minimum of a dyspeptic nature. I am also a fan of Thomas Vanek, but if Vanek were half as angry as Miller he would make the all-star team perennially and be a fixture on Coach’s Corner.

Miller’s intelligence when speaking about league-wide issues such as player safety and the labor relations between the league and its players is what that league needs more of. In a situation where you have the official dispenser of justice in the NHL giving a blank check to players to ignore rules during the playoff tournament, Miller and players like him have the ability to come to consensus and provide guidance to the league on how to avoid this crap down the road and turn the NHL from a garage league into a respected professional sport. With important players in the prime of their careers being sidelined or retired due to concussions, Miller speaks on these events wisely and with prudence (provided he isn’t the one getting hit.)

There are also negatives to Miller’s game. He has a tendency to give up weak goals at inopportune times. You don’t get the handle “Mr. Softee” without cause, and besides it being a really good derogatory nickname, he earned it. He also tends to go down too early in his stance when facing a shooter, allowing better ones to put the puck high glove side (regardless of the fact that an NHL goalie glove is the size of a sail off a yankee clipper.) His career numbers are, well, average.

The team has operated on a philosophy since the departure of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury of victory through goaltending. They could not or would not replace the scoring that left the team in their absence, or wrongly believed the team as constructed at the time could do so. Since that time, the team has had one spectacular year, one mediocre year, and three bad ones.

So as we sit here pulling our pork at teams that look way better than ours, let us ponder this enigmatic man (either after or during the pork-pulling. Your choice.) Where are we with this guy? He has played seven seasons as a Buffalo Sabre, so we should kinda know right?

General Statistics

Here are his rankings in each of his years as a starter in the NHL for shots against, games played, wins, save percentage, and goals against average. Minimum 1000 shots against for my convenience because it’s a nice round number. In order, it shows his statistic, the leaders in parenthesis, and Miller’s ranking in that stat. These are regular season numbers.

Miller is pretty consistent. If I had to guess right now, I’d say next year he’d have a GAA of 2.54 with a save percentage of .917. He’d get between 35 and 40 wins. He would be near, but not in, the top ten in these statistical categories.

And on average he’s playing between sixty to seventy games a year. At the end of this season there was a minor kerfuffle between internet jerkoffs (an expansive club of which we are all a member) over whether Miller should have been played every game on the way out, or if there should be a healthy rotation between Miller and Jhonas Enroth.

Games Played Versus Performance

I can’t see a correlation between games played and goals against. In fact the sample size we have shows really it doesn’t matter how many games he plays, his GAA will remain pretty close. The outlier is his Vezina year.

If he were terrible the more he played, the line would go from the top right to the bottom left. Instead you get a scatter around 2.60. Looks pretty consistent to me.

Fine I’ll do one for save percentage too.

If there was a correlation that the more games Miller played, the worse he got, the dots would appear to travel from the top left to the bottom right. Instead, you have a big scatter shot near .915.

So it looks like games it doesn’t matter with Miller. You know what you will get with the guy.

Standard Deviation In Save Percentage

Okay asshole, what about consistency game to game? How likely is it that Ryan Miller will stroke out and have a game where he ruins his team i.e. Mr. Softee style? Well that’s why the Good Lord invented mathematics. Standard deviation basically measures how varied things are between a set of data points, which in this case is save percentage. How many saves is a dude making game to game? This year Miller’s save percentage was .916. If you take every game he played and computed the standard deviation for him, it comes out to .070 percent. This means that any game he plays has a 68% chance of being either one standard deviation above or below his average percentage. On any given night, Miller might have a .980 save percentage or a .860 save percentage. That’s a wide ******* margin, kids. It’s also pretty much everyone elses.

By comparison, Henrik Lundqvist’s SD this year was .040. Mike Smith’s of Phoenix is .070. (D.E.C.I.M.A.L.S.) Seems like within a season, each player jumps around by their own tendencies. Some guys are more prone to explode in a ball of flame (Smith, Miller, Everyone) in a random game than others (Lundqvist). Tossed in, Ondrej Pavalec of the Jets, who although has a GAA at almost 3 and a save percentage below .910, still has a standard deviation of .070. There are few players who can hit that consistency within a year, let alone from year to year. Reliability in a goaltender is all relative, yo.

This is going somewhere.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

The Sabres have two goaltenders. One had to play, the other didn’t. Why?

Well, what is Enroth’s SD? He has one of, you guessed it, .070. All of this math and all of these statistics tell you that Ryan Miller is average to above average, and that Enroth is more than capable of playing a good game for you, and often. With having a similar GAA and save percentage as Miller, and being just as likely to poop the bed as Miller, all fear of playing him should melt away.

Except it doesn’t.

And this is my problem: Do the Sabres know this? We seem to be in a perpetual holding pattern, waiting for Ryan Miller to repeat his performance in the 09-10 season. The Sabres certainly seem to expect these kind of results based upon how they both speak and act. By the end of the year, it seemed like the Sabres could not afford to take Miller out of a single game, as if he was the sole reason their comeback had begun.

It was partly true. Since February 19th, when the Sabre took off like a V-2 destined for London, until March 30, when the wheels came off against Pittsburgh, Miller had a .937 save percentage with a 1.77 GAA. Those are dumb numbers. In that stretch the Sabres as a team scored just over three goals a game. In all the games that came before that, the Sabres averaged 2.36 goals a game.

What’s all this crap mean? It means the team needs to score ******* goals to win. Only six teams in the East have missed the playoffs with a positive goal differential since the lockout, and thats common sense, right? IT’S ALL COMMON SENSE. Get. Players. Who. Score.

None of these stats (and why they don’t matter) take into account the psychology of sports and the role confidence plays in the action. The Sabres need to play Miller because they believe in Miller as their goaltender. It is preached from high up in the organization and from the bench that Miller is “our guy” and needs to be ridden to the end. You say it enough times, and pretty soon you believe it, even though it isn’t true.

You can make a case that this came back to bite the Sabres in the ass at the end of the year, with Miller putting up bad games against Pittsburgh and Toronto twice. As the pressure mounted, and the games became must win, there was little chance Enroth would see the ice. The team had to play Miller because they couldn’t unlock from the single goalie philosophy. And when Miller gave up the ghost in those games, the confidence must have taken a hit. They NEEDED Miller to win the game for them. They relied on him.

Can Ryan Miller be a key player in the locker room without making him into the most important player on the team? Perhaps, and by all indications the team looks to improve on the forward ranks. The trade for Hodgson and his replacement of Gaustad, along with Tyler Ennis being placed at center indicates as much.

Hockey Rhetoric hit this best when looking over the impact of injuries on the Sabres this year and the team’s reliance on puck moving defensemen to generate offense. The Sabres now have those defensemen on the roster, when healthy. However, at forward resides the flake department. We will discuss this at the next opportunity.

For now, Miller should be good enough to win with. Others certainly have with a goalie of his ilk, but the team should not be so married to the concept of his playing as a requirement for success. Stop building the psychology for a situation that does not exist. Ryan Miller is like a bunch of other guys in the league, but a bunch of other teams in the league keep winning. If Ryan Miller is better than I am giving him credit for, it only goes further to prove how badly the team has handled the past five years.

Turns out it’s more Darcy, Lindy, and us as fans that make me want Joe Pesci to place my head in a vise.

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