Another reason why Ryan Miller is the face of the Sabres organization,
The questions echoed off the empty locker stalls over and over Monday. What went wrong? What needs to be fixed? How can the Buffalo Sabres return to the playoffs?
The more Ryan Miller talked, the more obvious the answer became.
The Buffalo Sabres need to be more like Ryan Miller. Or, at the very least, they need to write down what he said, tape it to their walls and read the words daily during this second long summer in a row.
The franchise goaltender stood in front of his stall in HSBC Arena on locker-cleanout day and started with a caveat. He said it was too soon to make a list of what went wrong because the season ended just days ago. He said he needed time to digest things.
Then, for more than 10 minutes, Miller passionately and articulately described exactly what went wrong and how the Sabres can fix it. He provided the map the Sabres can use to find the way back to successes like 2006 and 2007, when they went to consecutive Eastern Conference finals.
The road to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009-10 starts with establishing an identity, finding a pulse for the dressing room.
"We've got to get back to some of the years we had a few years ago," Miller said. "But we also have to move past that because obviously it didn't win us a Cup then. I think that as much as the city fell in love with the team from a few years ago, you're never going to recapture it. We have to come out with our own identity.
"If we're going to be successful with the world-class talent we have on this team, it's going to have to come from attitude and willingness to compete. Those are things that you can instill in a player. A lot of times you can't find the talent that we have. I'm going to stick to it: We have a ton of talent available in this organization. What we need to do is find an identity, find that swagger that we had. That's the only thing I want to compare with a few years ago. I don't want to be that team, but I want the swagger. I want the confidence."
The Sabres lacked focus often this year, a trait that infuriated fans and sapped the Sabres of their drive. Miller said it's up to each player who wears Blue and Gold to find it.
"A lot of guys are going to have to take a good look at themselves this summer because it wasn't good enough," Miller said. "It's going to start with me looking at myself because I can't ask anybody else in this room to do anything until I look at myself. That's the trait that we need. It's that you have accountability for your actions, your play. You're not looking for excuses. Then it spreads. I think that just driving that point home is what the Sabres need.
"I'm going to be here. I want this to be an environment where we win hockey games, an environment where players can feel confident every night. I think that a lot of it comes from guys asking, "Am I doing enough?' then helping their teammates."
Becoming better teammates was a common theme throughout the dressing room Monday. Part of that involves letting each other know that it's time to grow up.
"If we can't kick ourselves in the butt to compete, then we should all be shipped out," Miller said. "It's got to start here. I think we have the talent. I think we were close. We're growing. These are the growing pains, unfortunately.
"We were using a few years ago as a crutch way too much. The expectations coming off those last few years might have hurt a little bit with some of the guys in here growing into different roles. But that's part of hockey. You grow up; you play; your role changes every year.
"When you're a rookie and you do it, they pat you on the head and say, "Hey! Good job. Way to go.' Then you grow up a bit, you play some more games, and then you do the same exact thing and it's just like, "Eh, you know, he's supposed to do that.' I think a lot of guys are kind of dealing with that. They're moving into a role where they're supposed to do that. They're supposed to be leaders. They're supposed to go out and score big goals. To be honest, I thought we saw some improvement."
It wasn't enough. The Sabres remained in 10th place. Miller knows that's what they deserved. He also believes it will soon be better.
"We didn't give ourselves a chance to get in the big dance, and we have no one to blame but ourselves," he said. "We're not seeking anybody out to give us any empathy on this one. The fans should be [angry]. We're [angry]. We're trying to figure things out.
"All that we ask is that everyone's patient enough to get through a summer. We hope to improve and put a better product on the ice.
"I'm not going to make any outrageous claims, but I want to be a team that has a swagger, has confidence .‚.‚. a team that's maturing and growing into what we should be with this amount of talent."