BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Once the shock and emotions of leaving Buffalo and the Sabres began to wear off, goalie Ryan Miller began looking forward to the challenge he and Steve Ott will face in living up to the St. Louis Blues’ expectations.
Sabres no more, Miller and Ott are going from the NHL’s worst team to a bona fide Stanley Cup contender after being traded to the Central Division-leading Blues (39-13-6) in a five-player, two-draft-pick deal Friday night.
“It’s definitely humbling and flattering that they would make that kind of move and bring us in with the intention of giving them some help to push for a Stanley Cup,” Miller said. “We’re excited for the opportunity there. But also, it’s about the responsibility we have to that organization to show up and get up to speed and compete as hard as we can to live up to the trade.”
With his voice at times cracking with emotion, Miller spoke at a news conference during the first intermission of the Sabres’ game against the San Jose Sharks. The deal was made about an hour before the game, and marks the first significant move since Tim Murray took over as general manager in January.
In exchange for trading away Miller and Ott, their captain, the Sabres acquired goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick and a 2016 third-round pick.
The Central Division-leading Blues shored up their goaltending in an attempt to avoid another disappointing playoff run after being eliminated by Los Angeles in successive seasons.
Miller was expendable in Buffalo because the 33-year-old was in the final year of his contract and the Sabres were concerned he’d have little interest re-signing with a team early into its rebuilding stage.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made the deal with a more short-term objective in mind.
“The deal was made on the here and now. We’ll worry about the future after the season,” Armstrong said during a telephone conference call. “Obviously, Ryan Miller’s resume speaks for itself. It gives us a better chance for success.”
Miller won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie in 2010, the year he was the Most Valuable Player of the Olympic tournament in Vancouver, and is Buffalo’s franchise leader with 284 victories and 540 games. This season, he’s 5-22-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He’s 284-186-57 with a 2.60 GAA and .916 save percentage overall.
Armstrong noted the trouble the Blues had against the Kings and goalie Jonathan Quick during the playoffs and believes Miller can make a difference.
Ott has credentials as a leader and provides the Blues a gritty two-way forward.
“He’s an antagonistic player,” Armstrong said about Ott. “He’s a player that has that playoff pedigree.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan was set to start Miller on Friday night against San Jose, but the goalie and Ott did not take the ice for warm-ups and were scratched.
The Sabres acquired Ott from Dallas along with defenseman Adam Pardy in exchange for Derek Roy on July 2, 2012. Ott had 18 goals and 26 assists in 107 games for Buffalo.
Halak was in his fourth season with the Blues after spending his first four years with Montreal. He has a 24-9-4 record with a 2.23 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and four shutouts this season.
Stewart has 15 goals and 11 assists in 58 games for the Blues this season, and 115 goals in a six seasons with Colorado and St. Louis.
The 19-year-old Carrier was the Blues’ second-round pick in 2013.
Though aware he was on the trade block, Miller had difficulty coming to grips with leaving a team and a city, which he regarded as home for 12 years.
“I don’t know if I’ll make it through this, so let’s keep it quick,” Miller said, his voice already quaking. “I’m really going to miss this part of the world.”
Ott had preferred to stay in Buffalo, but understood that he was likely to be traded by a team seeking to rebuild.
He was particularly excited to be joining the Blues with Miller.
“It’s amazing. This guy right here is the best goalie in the world,” Ott said. “He has been our best player, our MVP in Buffalo in a tough, tough season. To have that opportunity to go along with Ryan for myself, I know how great he is. Both of us want to live up to expectations.”
Because the trade was so completed so close to game time, the Sabres had to scramble to find a backup to Jhonas Enroth.
They signed Ryan Vinz, a former high school goalie, who is employed as the director of hockey technology of the Sabres-backed HarborCenter facility, which is being constructed across the street from the team’s arena. The complex will feature two rinks and a hockey academy. Vinz was a walk-on at Clarkson, but never played and wound becoming the school’s video coordinator.
AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.