Tuesday night, while unusually crabby Sabres fans tossed and turned in their beds, murmuring hushed words like "rebuilding," "Rolston" and "Regier" in between snores, I stayed awake to see the team take on San Jose.
It was in the wee hours of the morning that I had an epiphany: Ryan Miller needs to leave, but not for the reasons everyone thinks.
I did not watch the game because of some misguided optimism, or as a demonstration of my own fanatic loyalty, but because I wanted to witness the truth, with no distractions. I wanted to sit down as a fan, as a former player, as a writer and try to understand what has happened to a team that is sinking faster than the Bismarck.
Despite besting the Sharks, 5-4, in a closely played matchup that ended in a shootout, I went to bed with a sour taste in my mouth.
I had watched hopelessly in vain as Ryan Miller, once the savior of America's hockey hopes, was turned into cannon fodder. The 33-year-old veteran netminder was pummelled, shellacked, unmercilously hung out to dry, time and time again, and then there was still more work to be done.
Maybe it was sleep deprivation, maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but for whatever reason I was hit by a wave of sympathy, or perhaps empathy.
With the game on the line, Miller stood tall as he has so many times before, and got the Sabres two points when they had no business winning. Perhaps we have all been spoiled and pampered by too many years of momentous goaltending from Dominic Hasek, because whenever Miller pulls a rabbit out of his helmet, people just shrug it off.
Even in a performance when Miller made an absurd 51 saves, was constantly under pressure, and won the game completely by himself, people love to point their self-righteous little fingers and say, "He should have, could have done this ..."
Like so many other players, Miller's career in Buffalo has slowly shifted from wide-eyed beginnings of unquestioned loyalty and support, to relentless criticism and pot-shotting. I shudder to think of what will happen when it really starts to snow in Western New York, and people become even more littered with misdirected rage.
I am not exonerating myself from this unfortunate, and perhaps inevitable, downturn toward frustration. It's all too easy to nitpick Miller, on a night-to-night basis, he often comes too far out, tends to lose position, doesn't evoke confidence, etc., etc. Not anymore, I am done.
On the game-tying goal against the Sharks, Miller made a tremendous save on a shot in front, only to have Tommy Wingels dive directly into his crease and force the puck in on a rebound. That should not happen, not in the NHL. If I was responsible for guarding the front of the net on that play I would skate right past the bench and off the ice.
Seeing Miller leave the ice last night was like watching a wartime president step out of the oval office for the last time. Unbelievably fatigued, drenched in sweat and feigning excitement, the message was clear: he has no more to give, not here anyways.
The years, the hundreds of blistering undefended shots, and the countless petty criticisms have taken their toll. Ryan Miller has broken his back for this team and this city, everyone who calls themselves a Sabres fan, and how have we repaid him?
We send him out their night after night with an undermanned, undercoached team to get slapped around, and then we blame it on him.
The sad truth is that he is too good to endure this kind of punishment without honest recognition. He could get traded to the Canadiens or the Bruins and it wouldn't bother me a bit, but watching that game against the Sharks was nothing short of upsetting.
The Sabres were never going to have a brilliant year, not with rookie second- and third-line players who aren't old enough to buy a beer after the game. But that does not give anyone the excuse to run the teams most valued player into the ground without any help, and then spit on the guy.
It is time to give Miller the sendoff that he deserves. Let him go to a team where his talents will not be wasted in vain. Let him leave with the dignity he has earned.