Jim Benning has always believed in Ryan Miller.
The Vancouver Canucks general manager, who drafted the goaltender for Buffalo in 1999, wants to re-sign the unrestricted free agent to a one-year, incentive-laded contract.
So do the Anaheim Ducks.
The betting line is Miller will opt for a more competitive club and be closer to his wife (Noureen DeWulf) and son (Bodhi), who reside in Los Angeles. He would serve as backup to John Gibson, 26, but the starter’s penchant for injury makes Miller more valuable, even if he might not hit bonuses that might have been attainable in splitting the Canucks’ crease with Jacob Markstrom.
The Ducks are offering a one-year, $1 million contract.
“We’ll see what happens,” Benning said Thursday. “If he goes to Anaheim, I understand it. The plan for us would be to find a younger goaltender who has some upside.”
A two-year affordable deal would allow Thatcher Demko to keep developing with the AHL Utica Comets. The Canucks aren’t expected to make a play for UFA Jonathan Bernier, 28, because he earned $4.1 million last season in Anaheim and sees himself as a starter.
And the popular Eddie Lack, 29, isn’t an option either, even though he earned just $1.15 million last season and played some of his best hockey here.
One distinct possibility is Anders Nilsson, 27, of the Sabres. The UFA had a .923 saves percentage in 26 games — he started 23 — and would be a financial fit after earning $1 million last season. The 6-6 stopper also has a history with Markstrom. They teamed up for Sweden at the 2010 world junior tournament and captured bronze.
It would make sense because bigger names in free agency are going to want big money, even if they project as backups.
“Teams are going to be spending more on backups because it’s a long season and maybe they don’t want their starting goalies playing 65 or 70 games,” said Benning. “And that could be the trend to spend more on backups, especially those who can carry the load.”
One other option would be to promote Richard Bachman, 29, from Utica, but the Canucks prefer he continue to work as a mentor for Demko.
“If we don’t get somebody signed, we’ll look at him as an option,” said Benning. “He’s a great kid and has a great attitude and a willingness to help Thatcher develop. He’s an important guy for our organization.”
As for Miller and the financial risk, a one-year deal is the only way for anyone to go. Multi-year deals for players 35 and older carry risk. The cap hit counts regardless of whether, or where, the player is active. The 35-plus rule was introduced in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement to keep clubs from burying veterans in the AHL, or front-loading contracts.
It has led to the signing of 35-plus players to shorter contracts to prevent having a full cap hit applied if they are injured or unable to compete at the NHL level.
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