Ryan Miller

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
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Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.

TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)

Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?

Sweet, right?

A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.

Forwards

Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.

How many of them bring something to the table, though? Using Charting Hockey’s handy tableaus (which utilize Evolving Hockey’s data), here’s how some prominent aging forwards stack up in Goals Against Replacement:

NHL players considering retirement forwards GAR

 

Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?

If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.

Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.

The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.

Defensemen

Let’s apply the same Charting Hockey/Evolving Hockey GAR experiment to some defensemen who might be teetering:

NHL players considering retirement defensemen GAR

You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”

An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.

Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.

But the forward group is far richer, it seems.

Goalies

This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?

But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.

Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.

“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”

(Personally, I wonder if Ryan Miller will eventually start playing “Nightcrawlers” with his son. It’s an imagination-based game, you see.)

Miller updated to Mirtle around March 19 that it’s “too soon — can’t even process what’s happening.”

Veteran goalies present their own brand of tough calls. How many of these goalies would be willing to play as backups, or as the “1B” in platoons.

  • Miller adjusted to life as such, but could Henrik Lundqvist accept a lesser role with a different team if the Rangers buy him out?
  • Craig Anderson suffered through multiple rough seasons after once developing a strange knack for rotating elite and “eh” seasons.
  • Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
  • Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.

Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement

While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.

Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Anaheim Ducks: This season’s biggest surprise, disappointment

Ducks
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks.

Biggest surprise so far

There are not many, but Adam Henrique would easily qualify.

He is not only the Ducks’ leading goal-scorer and point producer, he was also on track for a career year offensively with 26 goals and 43 points along with strong possession numbers in his 71 games. He has done most of that damage at even-strength while playing only around 16 minutes per game. By comparison, when he scored 30 goals during the 2015-16 season in New Jersey he did it while playing close to 20 minutes per game.

How efficient has his goal scoring been this season? Among the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Henrique ranks 27th in the league in goals per 60 minutes. That has him sandwiched directly between Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin. In other words, at even-strength he has been one of the best goal-scorers in the league.

An impressive accomplishment in any context. Even more impressive while playing on an otherwise offensively starved hockey team.

Biggest disappointment so far

It is not any one particular player, but rather a collective group effort.

That group being all of their young forwards not really taking any sort of a meaningful step forward in their development. This isn’t to say that they should be written off, or that they still can’t become good NHL regulars, but the group of Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Max Comtois, and Sprong (before his trade to Washington) did not really make any sort of a meaningful impact this season offensively. That was going to be a must for the Ducks to be even remotely competitive.

Now, to be fair, all of them are age 22 or younger and have very brief NHL resumes. Not every rookie or young forward is going to step right into the NHL and succeed. But there had to be an expectation that somebody would make a big leap this season and take on a bigger role with the offense. It did not happen.

John Gibson still did not get much help

Entering this season Gibson had established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders. A game-changer that could help elevate any team he plays on and give them a chance to win any given a game.

If there was a reason to believe this team as constructed could remain competitive, it would be the goaltending duo of him Gibson and Ryan Miller. It is an unfair expectation to put all of that expectation on just two players at one position, but it was the reality of the team’s situation right now. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they did not even really get that this season as Gibson went through the least productive seasons of his NHL career.

It is also hard to put a lot of the blame on him. The defense in front of him was mired by injuries all season and just didn’t perform at a level that was high enough to give their goaltenders any support. That in itself is a bit of a disappointment. That the Ducks have been blessed with one of the league’s most valuable assets (not only a franchise goalie, but an outstanding backup) and still were not able to be even remotely competitive.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks
Ducks’ long-term outlook

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Thin Mints, Tic Tacs now the going rate for pucks from NHLers

Ducks/Jets Twitter

The NHL Trade Deadline was last week, but some deals are still going through.

Of course, these deals don’t involve players changing teams; rather, they are simple swaps of pucks for treats.

Ryan Miller made his trade before the deadline, which has started a bit of a trend. Last month, one young fan brought a sign to a game that stated she would trade a box of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies for a puck. The Ducks goalie saw the sign and could not refuse such a good offer.

When Miller got home that night, his wife, actress Noureen DeWulf, asked to have some and the netminder told her he left them in the freezer at the rink for a pregame snack. (Thin Mints right out of the freezer is the only true way to enjoy them and I will not hear otherwise.)

That successful trade prompted a young Red Wings fan to offer up some Thin Mints for a puck. The very wise Luke Glendening took advantage of the offer.

“I’ll make that deal every day. I love Girl Scout cookies.” Amen, Luke.

Finally, over the weekend, a Jets fan didn’t have Thin Mints to offer Nikolaj Ehlers. Instead, she gave the forward two options of Tic Tacs to choose from.

So if you want a puck now from an NHL player during warmups you better bring a treat worth trading for.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ducks goalie Ryan Miller at ease entering twilight of career

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a smile and a wave to the crowd, Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller left the ice in Buffalo a winner for perhaps one last time.

”Yeah, the fans in Buffalo have always been great,” Miller said, acknowledging the cheers he heard in being introduced as the starter, and the more that followed when named the game’s third star in a 3-2 win Sunday.

The 39-year-old goalie spent his first 11 seasons in Buffalo. He expressed a hint of regret in knowing he won’t be in town Thursday when the Sabres honor members of the 2000-09-decade teams as part of the franchise’s seasonlong 50th anniversary celebrations.

”I’m actually going to miss that group of guys who are going to be here in a few more days,” he said, referring to many of his former teammates.

”I’ve got a little FOMO,” he said, referring to the phrase of having a fear of missing out. ”There’s a lot of guys on that list I’d like to be back with them in Buffalo.”

Whether it was the familiar setting or the victory that moved the former Michigan State standout into a tie with Mike Vernon for 15th on the NHL list, Miller was in a reflective mood at the end of a five-game road trip.

”I guess when I look back, I never would’ve expected to be on a list like that or playing this long, so I try to appreciate the opportunities, and it’s been fun,” he said.

As to how much longer he intends to keep playing, Miller gave no hint. And it made no difference when reminded he’s only four wins shy of matching Dominik Hasek– the starter he eventually replaced in Buffalo – and how close he is to 400.

”Yeah, it’s a nice round number. But I’m going to have to play longer to see where we get to after the next couple of months,” he said. ”I still enjoy it. And I still think I can play some hockey. But I’m starting to evaluate more about how my body feels, and am I able to do it at a high level.”

Miller showed few signs of age in stopping 31 shots, including all 15 in the third period, to improve to 7-5-3 in a season in which the Ducks have fallen out of playoff contention and are retooling an aging roster.

First-year coach Dallas Eakins praised Miller for how he has handled the switch to a backup.

”There’s zero arrogance with him, there’s zero entitlement with him, and I think that could come real easy to somebody who’s been in the game as long as him,” Eakins said of the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner and goalie who played a significant role in helping the U.S. win a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Eakins credited Miller for the time he’s spent mentoring the team’s youngsters.

”That’s not something that was encouraged by me. He’s done that on his own,” Eakins said.

”We’ve leaned on him. He’s got great experience in the game, and he’s somebody that I personally listen to a lot,” he added. ”He’s had an amazing career, and one I hope for him that keeps going.”

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto hasn’t seen Miller lose a step despite long stretches between starts.

”Every opportunity he’s in net, we have a chance to win,” he said. ”He brings his best game, and that’s a credit to his work ethic.”

Miller hasn’t lost his desire. That was evident when he recalled Friday night’s 5-4 loss at Toronto in which he made 30 saves. John Tavares decided the outcome, scoring on a power play with seven seconds left in overtime.

Miller was looking forward to the challenge matching up against the likes of Auston Matthews and a Maple Leafs’ lineup of snipers in a shootout.

”Really would have liked to have done that, so that was disappointing,” Miller said, before reflecting on his win over Buffalo. ”So this is a nice bounce back.”

PHT Morning Skate: Top 10 RFA defenders; Seguin will finish strong

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Hockey News looks at the top 10 pending RFA defenders. (The Hockey News)

• The Anaheim Ducks could move Ryan Miller, but he would have to be up for it. (The Fourth Period)

Jesperi Kotkaniemi needs to feel like “the guy” again. (Sportsnet)

• Who is the best scorer of all-time?. (ESPN)

• The St. Louis Blues will retire Chris Pronger’s no. 44 next season. (NHL.com/Blues)

• Expect Tyler Seguin to finish the season strong after a slow start. (The Point)

[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday]

• The upcoming NHL Stadium Series will put a spotlight on Air Force Hockey. (NHL.com)

• Longtime Montreal Canadiens doctor David Mulder has been on the job for 50 years. Hist first patient was Bobby Orr. (Montreal Gazette)

• It took her some time, but Alex Carpenter is finally making a name for herself with Team USA’s Women’s team. (New York Times)

• Can Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews and David Pastrnak hit the 60-goal mark this season? (Yahoo)

Morgan Rielly‘s health will affect the way the Leafs approach the trade deadline. (Toronto Sun)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.