Ryan Miller’s Resume is…Almost Hall of Fame Worthy
It Ryan Miller a Hall of Famer? It’s a question most Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres fans are likely to answer with a resounding “yes.” But, now that Ryan Miller has announced his retirement, we can better measure if he should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and it’s an agonizingly difficult decision.
Miller is currently on the razor’s edge. Had he won a Stanley Cup as a starter, let alone at all, the answer would unequivocally be yes. Had he not won the 2010 Vezina Trophy, the Hobey Baker award, or even earned the 2010 Olympic tournament MVP, the answer would almost certainly be no. Miller’s resume puts him right there, but squeaking in when there are other goaltenders with more hardware who weren’t inducted will be tough, so let’s dive into the case.
Miller’s Company on the Wins List
The Hockey Hall of Fame starts with the word “Hockey” and not the letters “N-H-L” for a reason. It exists to memorialize the all-time great players and contributors to the sport of hockey, not just the world’s best league.
But when comparing the best male players of all time and whether they deserve to be enshrined as the best of their generation, you can’t have a resume that excludes modern NHL excellence.
Although he lacks a Stanley Cup ring, Miller has been among the best goalies of his generation. For the sake of comparison, let’s first look at the goalies atop the all-time NHL wins list. Miller surpassed Dominik Hasek this season to take No.14 all-time on the list.
Below Miller, Rogie Vachon at No. 23 and Hasek at No.15 are both Hall of Famers. So is Gump Worsely at No. 27. Of the 13 goalies above him, eight are already Hall of Famers. Two, Marc-Andre Fleury and Roberto Luongo, who are also No. 3 and No. 4 on the wins list, respectively, are either still active (in Fleury’s case) or not yet eligible for Hall of Fame induction (Luongo).
Fleury will be inducted, and Luongo should be eventually, so let’s say that’s 10 of 13. Henrik Lundqvist has not officially retired and seems as if he might try a comeback next season. He has a strong case as well, so that makes 11 of 13.
This is the first example where Miller’s lack of a Stanley Cup ring hurts him. He’s not nearly as high on the list as Luongo but doesn’t have the team success like some of the Hall of Fame goalies below him.
Do Stanley Cups Really Matter to the Hall of Fame Committee?
Miller sits 10 wins behind former Detroit Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood at No.13 all-time. Osgood won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998 and 2008, all with the Red Wings and as the starter in the last two.
He was an all-star three times, but he never won a Vezina trophy. His best finish came as a runner-up to Jim Carey (re-he-heaaaaly) in 1995-96. He did share the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender or goaltending tandem who have played a minimum of 25 games and allowed the fewest goals against in the regular season, with Mike Vernon in 1995-96 and Hasek in 2007-08. That’s good, but that’s not Vezina good.
Osgood also lacks international success. Osgood’s Red Wings teams never missed the playoffs, so he couldn’t play in the World Championship. He was never selected to compete for Canada in the World Junior Championship or the Olympics.
His Red Wings also dominated the NHL with a roster stacked full of Hall of Famers, including Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Pavel Datsyuk (the list goes on).
In those respects, Miller seems more deserving than Osgood. His lack of a Stanley Cup is counteracted by his Vezina Trophy, domination of the 2010 Olympic tournament and his Hobey Baker award in 2001. He also played on teams that did not compare to Osgood’s Red Wings.
If you have some time, just watch Ryan Miller make 42 saves in Team USA’s 5-3 win over Team Canada in the first round of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
If you have even more time and are ok with being a little sad, you can also watch him make 36 saves in the Gold Medal game rematch that Team USA lost.
Then there is Curtis Joseph. Joseph sits at No. 7 all-time in wins. Joseph lacks a Stanley Cup has not won any of the personal recognition that Miller has. He does have international experience, but not of the quality of Miller.
Miller is the best of those three when you consider his entire hockey resume, giving him a better case for the Hall.
Comparing Miller’ Generation
Still, the Hall of Fame is for the best players of their generation, which means we must compare Miller with his counterparts around the league during his career. Not just the likes of Luongo, Lundqvist and Fleury, but those slightly younger than him like Jonathan Quick, Carey Price. Tuukka Rask and more.
Though it’s impossible to know how changes in the game of hockey and the selection committee will influence the number of goalies allowed in during a period of time, for the sake of this exercise, let’s compare the potential future generation of Hall of Fame goalies to the most recent.
The previous generations of goalies who are now in the Hall had careers that overlapped with Miller’s, just like Miller’s career likely will overlap with some much younger goalies who will one day be elected. When you look at the most recent crop of Hall of Fame goalies, you realize just how difficult it is to be inducted to the Hall of Fame at the position. There are only four who played in at least one season that Miller did: Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek.
Belfour, Roy and Hasek are most definitely from the era preceding Miller. They are all 55 or 56 years old, and most of their careers overlapped with each other.
Brodeur just turned 49, making him half a decade younger, but still arguably from the same generation as the previous three. More than half of his career came before the 2004-05 lockout, after which the NHL changed the rules to increase scoring. He belongs with Roy, Belfour and Hasek.
That era had many other big names with Vezina Trophies, Stanley Cup rings and or international success but didn’t make it. Ron Hextall, John Vanbiesbrouck, Mike Richter, Tom Barrasso, Curtis Joseph, Jose Theodore, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Olaf Kolzig. Those goalies all excelled, but none dominated like Hasek, Belfour, Roy and Brodeur. In many seasons, they topped the Vezina voting, they all won Stanley Cups, and Hasek won two Hart Trophies. That is domination.
But parity has increased, both among teams and goalies. There hasn’t been a core group of dominating goaltenders in this generation as in the last generation. Fleury has won the most among his generation. He’s the most accomplished in the playoffs and for multiple teams, but he never came that close to winning a Vezina.
Lundqvist has a Vezina, wins and international success, but no Stanley Cup. Luongo has wins and international success but no title or Vezina. Yet they are all likely to be inducted into the Hall. Only Sergei Bobrovsky and Tim Thomas (who is most definitely not Hall of Fame-caliber) have won the Vezina trophy twice since Brodeur did it back-to-back in 2007 and 2008.
Miller Versus Everyone Else
Assuming there are maybe four slots available for Miller’s generation and Fleury, Lundqvist and Luongo all get in, that leaves one spot for Miller, and he’s got some stiff competition for it. Quick, Price, Holtby, Pekka Rinne, Rask and Bobrovsky, who are all younger than Miller but played most of their careers’ at the same time as Miller, make a strong cases.
When you break down their numbers and their successes and what they still might accomplish, Miller’s competition won’t make it easy for him. It might come down to how much the committee voting for the “Hockey” Hall of Fame, not simply the “NHL” Hall of Fame, values Miller’s 2001 Hobey Baker Award for being the top NCAA player. Among the group named before, three have won cups, all but one has at least one Vezina trophy, and a few have had international success. Only Miller has a Hobey Baker award. Even with the award he still faces a goalie with amateur (if that’s what you call the CHL) hardware. So, let’s break it down.
Price doesn’t have a cup, but he has one Vezina and gold medals in the Olympics, World Juniors and World Cup. He was voted best goaltender in the 2014 Sochi Olympic tournament. (backstopping perhaps the best team Canada has ever had, which means maybe one of the best teams in the history of hockey.) He also won awards as the CHL and WHL’s goaltender of the year during his major-junior days.
Like Miller, Price’s Montreal Canadiens have been non-competitive for a part of his career (the Canadiens missed the playoffs in 2017-18 and 2018-19). Still, with time left in his career to win a cup and more accolades, unless Price’s career takes a terrible turn, he’s probably in over Miller.
As of now, Miller should be in before Holtby. Holtby has a cup and a Vezina but not the international or amateur success, but that could change depending on how the rest of Holtby’s career goes.
Quick has had international success and won two cups but has not won a Vezina and did not win the Hobey Baker during his time at UMass. If he catches Miller on the wins list — he’s 55 wins behind Miller right now — he’s probably more qualified as well.
Rinne will get close to Miller on the wins list and has a Vezina trophy but has less international and amateur success. They’re close, but I think Miller’s case is slightly better.
Rask has been a starter on a consistently Boston Bruins good team, and if he continues to play, he will reach Miller on the wins list, but that’s not certain. He has a Vezina, and if he wins a cup as a starter — he was a backup when they won in 2011 — he’s probably in before Miller too, but if his career continues as it does without a cup, Miller might be more deserving. These two are neck and neck.
Bobrovsky is probably in front of Miller as well. He has two Vezina trophies and some international success but not quite of Miller’s quality. But, if he wins a Stanley Cup as a starter or plays a significant role in a title, he gets in before Miller for sure.
Miller’s Career Statistics Damage His Bid
The final nail in the coffin for Miller’s Hall of Fame case, which will have to be considered in the context of the teams he played on, are his numbers. Of all the goalies just mentioned, his career goals-against average of 2.63 is by far the highest. His career save percentage of .914 is better than Fleury and Quick’s as of now, but that could change since it’s only fractionally better, like a small fraction, like 1/1000th better.
How much will the teams he played on help Miller’s case? It should somewhat. During his 18 seasons, Miller’s teams have only made the playoffs seven times, with him as a starter.
And, during their playoff years, the Sabres only ever finished in the top half of the league in shots against per game, twice, and they finished at No.14 and No.12 in those two seasons. They were a playoff team, but not a defensively sound one. His time at the end of his career with the Ducks was difficult. He played well as a backup for the most part, but his last three seasons came as the Ducks experienced their worst long-term performance in franchise history and allowed opposing teams seemingly unlimited offensive opportunities.
When you boil it down, Miller isn’t quite a Hall of Fame goaltender. He’s close, maybe as close as you could be and not get in, but he isn’t there.
The old saying is that if you have to hem and haw about if a player’s case for Hall of Fame induction, he or she probably isn’t worthy. Miller’s career was impressive. The best in the history of an American-born goaltenders as of now, but when you judge him against his contemporaries, he isn’t quite a Hall of Famer.