It is hard to go a few clicks on the internet without running into at least one blog post or article pinning the Capitals’ woes on their goaltending. Add to that the Buffalo Sabres’ struggles plus their netminder Ryan Miller becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer and you have what looks like a match made in heaven.
— Renaud Lavoie (@LavoieRenaud) February 4, 2014
Miller would get some consideration for goaltender of the year if not mired on an underachieving Buffalo squad. His 0.925 save percentage is among the top ten in the league but the Sabres’ offense supports his efforts with just 1.8 goals per game, saddling him with a 14-21-3 record. So it appears the Team USA goalie is having a superior season to any of Washington’s netminders. But looks can be deceiving.
During even-strength, Washington netminders have stopped 1,369 of the 1,485 shots they have faced (0.922 save percentage). Miller has posted a 0.928 save percentage in those same circumstances. So if Miller gave the same performance for Washington as he did in Buffalo for all their previous games, the Capitals would have seen one fewer even-strength goal against every four games.
On the penalty kill, Washington netminders posted a 0.888 save percentage while Miller provided Buffalo with 0.905. That difference would be one goal against every 17 games.
The net result? If Miller plays the same percentage of games in Washington as he has for Buffalo we can expect him to start 18 of the 26 remaining games. That would mean between four and six fewer goals against – perhaps a win or two more than the current crop of Capitals’ netminders. But at what cost?
Buffalo is not going to give Miller away, so assets would have to be sacrificed. Considering Buffalo is in rebuilding mode, that would likely include a draft pick and/or a prospect. And it would have to include moving a couple of roster players. According to Capgeek, Washington can add a contract with an average annual value of just $199,469. Ryan Miller carries a cap hit of $6,250,000, meaning others would have to go. With the blueline corp thin in terms of talent I would expect one of the goalies and a forward. But which ones?
Is it worth parting with a young goalie with cost-controlled seasons ahead for an unrestricted free agent netminder who provides little additional value in terms of saves? Is it also worth parting with Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer or Jason Chimera, who are currently three of your best (healthy) goal scorers? The numbers do not suggest it is.