(HockeySTL)-- When the Blues made the big trade for elite goaltender Ryan Miller last season, no one envisioned that less than a year later he would be facing the team that traded for him.
The trade, which sent Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-round draft pick, and a third-round pick in 2016, was a blockbuster deal that was widely seen as a necessary one. Following the acquisition, the Blues seemed to greatly increase their odds of securing the elusive Stanley Cup, at least in the eyes of people around the league.
After starting his Blues career with a 10-3-1 record, providing extensive proof to naysayers, Miller looked to be the real deal. But in the playoffs, when it counted most, he had a .897 save percentage, a 2-4 record and was far from being good enough to lead the Blues to victory. That performance followed a 1-6 stretch to close out the regular season.
A lot of blame was placed on Miller after the series and perhaps some of it was unfair. The showing, however, was enough to sway the Blues from re-signing the goalie.
“It just didn’t end well and I think that is where the drama comes from is people want to know why,” Miller told the Vancouver Sun on Wednesday. “I don’t have any hard feelings. It was a situation where they were hoping it would lead to something different within the organization and it just didn’t pan out, just didn’t work out the way we hoped. There are a lot of different reasons for that. I don’t feel like I played to the best of my abilities, I don’t think I played terrible. But in the playoffs that little difference is (big).”
Originally, the club did intend to bring Miller back into the fold for the 2014-15 season and perhaps longer. Management began extension talks with Miller following the trade, but they were put aside until the end of the season.
Following the playoff loss, the Blues elected to hand over the reins to Brian Elliott and young Jake Allen. Doug Armstrong and the organziation signed Elliott to a three-year, $7.5 million deal and used the extra money to bring in center Paul Stastny with a four-year, $28 million contract.
Miller, 34, signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks later in the offseason, setting up a return to St. Louis on Thursday as the teams faced off for the first time this season.
For Miller, the return was perfect. The two-time Olympian was nearly flawless, stopping 31 of 32 Blues shots en route to a 4-1 victory. Simply put, he looked like the goaltender the Blues traded for.
“He played well,” said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. “Listen, things didn’t work out here, but he’s still Ryan Miller. He’s still a great goalie and one of the best goalies in this league. He’s a hard guy to beat.”
Before the contest, Miller had the chance to catch up with some of his former teammates. It was the first real opportunity he has had to do so since signing with Vancouver. Every game is an important one to players as meticulous as Miller, but Thursday’s opportunity was special.
“There are games as a competitor you want to play,” Miller told the Vancouver Sun. “There’s a good group of guys I got to know (in St. Louis). You try and find the sporting kind of spirit in it where you go out and try to play well. I was there for a brief time but got to know a lot of the guys pretty well.
Last season, the Blues elected to rest Miller when they hosted his former team, the Sabres, the team that Miller spent his first 11 seasons with. Miller was okay with the decision, but he admitted it would have been fun to face a former squad. On Thursday, Miller was finally awarded that opportunity.
“It was interesting, I’ve never done that before,” said Miller. “I never had a chance to play against a former team like that. There’s a lot of good guys on that team and this was one I was actually really looking forward to it. Especially here in St. Louis, that was fun.”
Miller will have two more opportunities to face the Blues this season, and if he plays anywhere near the level he played Thursday, he’ll become a dreaded adversary.