The veteran goaltender knew the situation, his situation, that he was walking into with the Blues after he was acquired in the days before the trade deadline. He knew he was going to a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. And if the team fell short of that, he knew what to expect.
"Unless we won the Stanley Cup, there was going to be a lot of criticism," Miller said Wednesday. "I kind of knew what to expect coming in. I’ll take my share of the blame. I could have played better. It is what it is. We played what I thought were — even the last game, people look at the score, 5-1, but it’s 1-1 going into the third period — we played essentially what I feel were six one-goal games. We won two of them and we didn’t get the job done in the other ones."
Miller spoke with reporters in the Blues’ dressing room at St. Louis Mills as he and his teammates packed up their belongings for the season. Unlike most of his teammates, however, he is an accomplished player who is at a crossroads in his career with an uncertain future.
In 25 starts with the Blues, Miller went 12-12-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .901 save percentage — not the kind of numbers anyone expected. Neither was another first-round playoff series loss for a team that was among the best in the NHL for most of the season and one of the favorites to win it all.
The 33-year-old goalie is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and he and the Blues will have to figure out what comes next. Do the Blues try to re-sign him? Does Miller look to continue his career elsewhere?
"I don’t close any avenues with anybody, especially in this kind of profession," Miller said. "I’m just trying to make my best impression wherever I’m at. I know it didn’t work out in this playoff series. I think it’s a good group here, and it’s up to management to make decisions about my situation going forward. I’m definitely open to it."
Miller said he didn’t know a lot about the city before the trade. He’d visited for hockey when he was younger but didn’t see much of St. Louis.
"But to spend some time here and get to know a few people and get to know the area, it’s nice," he said. "It’s funny how a different part of the world unfolds and opens up for you and it’s really nice. Good people. Very passionate. And as pissed off as they probably are at me right now, it’s good. It shows they’re sports fans and they’re committed to their team and they have passion and they have pride. Those are the kind of people you want to play for.
"If it works out that management wants me back and it’s a situation where … it works out and I’m back here, that’s the kind of people you want to play for. I hope they would appreciate the effort I try to bring, and I hope they continue to support the Blues because they have a great group of guys here with tremendous upside. And I know that people wanted it to be better this year and we wanted to be better, but this team is going to be better."
Miller made $6.25 million this season in the final year of a five-year deal worth $31.25 million he signed with the Buffalo Sabres, according to the website CapGeek.com. He is in the twilight of his career, as evidenced by some flecks of gray hair peaking out from under his USA Hockey cap Wednesday.
The goalie said he’s more concerned with finding the right team than he is the length of his next contract. He wants to contribute to a team that will have a chance to win.
General manager Doug Armstrong said Tuesday that prospect Jake Allen, the goalie of the year in the American Hockey League this season, will be one of the Blues’ goalies in the 2014-15 campaign.
Who Allen’s partner will be, the GM said, will be discussed at the appropriate time over the next few weeks.
"It’s a two-way street with Ryan at this time," Armstrong said. "He has opportunities. I want to sit and talk to him. I want to get his feelings about our organization, how he felt about coming in, where he thinks we’re at … see if he even has any interest being a St. Louis Blue."
Armstrong will soon have a difficult decision to make.
It would make sense to pair Allen with a veteran goalie as the youngster transitions to a bigger role with the Blues. But is Miller the kind of goalie who would welcome his backup getting regular starts?
Do the Blues believe Miller is the goalie they saw in his first 12 starts here, when he went 9-2-1 with a 2.03 GAA and .918 save percentage? Or the goaltender who went 3-10 in his final 13 starts (including playoffs) with a 2.97 GAA and .889 save percentage?
And is it worth it to pay Miller more than another goalie — Brian Elliott, for example — might command on the open market? Or is it better to use the difference in that money and spend it elsewhere, like on a forward who could possibly improve the team’s production on the power play?
Those are some of the questions facing Armstrong and the Blues going into this offseason, which began sooner than anyone had hoped.
Those kind of questions, after not winning the Stanley Cup, were inevitable, too.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.