I want Tyler Myers to be an elite defenseman. Everyone in town does. The Buffalo Sabres are paying him to be one. They need him to be one.
So far, most of the time in his career, he hasn’t been. He’s been pretty good at times, this year for instance in the games that followed Ted Nolan’s arrival. But it can’t be a sometimes thing.
Myers sat out five games with an elbow problem in the middle of March and then returned March 25 against Montreal. In the third period of that game, Myers slid hard into a goalpost and revealed Monday he suffered two broken ribs.
So Myers missed the final 10 games of the season and thus 15 of the last 16. That gave him a lot of free time to sit around and watch. And think.
“Obviously it was a season that we have to make sure we reflect on and realize changes need to be made,” Myers said Monday after cleaning out his locker following his third straight year of not making the playoffs. “We also want to take the positives out of it too and bring those into September and make sure everybody is on the same page.”
The small group of reporters with Myers got sidetracked on to other topics. Only when I re-read his comments did I realize I should have asked exactly what positives he found in all this.
(OK, Darcy Regier is gone and Ted Nolan is here. That’s two right there, so maybe Myers was on to some things).
“Whenever you finish in last place in the league, it can only go up from there,” Myers said in the no-kidding moment of the day. “It’s a matter of coming in, trying to improve every day, coming together as a group and working as a team that can get into contention.”
By pro sports standards, Myers is a veteran and closing in on middle age. He’s 24 and will be 25 by the time next season ends. And that will be his sixth year in the NHL.
Myers is in the middle of a long-term, big-money deal. It will be the third year of his seven-year, $38.5 million extension and he has already pocketed $18 million of that.
In fact, Myers has made nearly $22 million from the Sabres since he made his NHL debut in 2009. Think about that. I’m still rubbing my eyes in disbelief after figuring that out. Especially after he just finished a season with a minus-26 rating. Yes, I realize those numbers are going to be inflated this year because of Buffalo’s historically bad offense but minus-26 is still minus-26.
Has he been worth all that dough? Not even close. So there are those who say the Sabres should move on from Myers. I don’t agree.
There are those who say the Sabres can’t move on, lest Myers turn into another Zdeno Chara who blossoms on later teams in his career. That’s a bit of a stretch as Myers simply doesn’t have the innate nastiness and aura of Boston’s 6-foot-9 behemoth.
Still, Myers spoke with a bit of an edge Monday and I liked that. I got the sense he knows it’s time, that loose summers without a lot of solid conditioning work have to become a thing of the past. He spoke of getting back on the ice soon to play for Team Canada in the World Championships. Good step forward.
“Guys around my age in the room definitely have to step up and be the core of this team,” Myers acknowledged. “It’s a young team and we can definitely take steps this summer and become leaders.”
The players in the locker room recognize how valuable Myers can be too.
“He needs to be a horse. He’s got the body for it,” Drew Stafford said Monday. “He can develop into that type of player who is playing those big, big minutes. You have a couple injuries, he can absorb some more minutes from certain guys.
“We definitely missed him quite a bit. That’s not to take anything away from guys that were called up and thrown into the fire. This was just a challenging and adversity-filled situation.”
I’ve heard Nolan say several times already that “I’m a strong believer in laying a foundation or your house will crumble.” He said it again after Sunday’s game. The Sabres are building a mansion on the back end.
Every time someone says to me the Sabres’ apparent method of drafting high for a few years is a slippery slope if you simply look to Edmonton, it’s easy to remind them the Oilers’ failing has been going all forwards and not building a real defense.
The Sabres have Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. They have Mark Pysyk. There’s veterans like Myers and Christian Ehrhoff, assuming both are back next season (and contract status makes that pretty likely). Chad Ruhwedel hasn’t looked out of place. Jake McCabe shows promise.
Just imagine if the Sabres actually take OHL stud Aaron Ekblad with their top pick. I wouldn’t take Ekblad because of the Sabres’ dire need for offense. But if the New York Islanders turn over their pick to Buffalo and the Sabres have two in the top five? I might pull the Ekblad trigger knowing there’s a solid forward to come a couple spots later as well.
And it all goes back to Myers. He needs to show the way for Ristolainen and Zadorov. For Pysyk. For Ekblad or any other newbie that comes this way.
“When you take a look at our D, it’s pretty exciting to see how much depth we have,” Myers said. “With ‘Risto’ and ‘Big Z’ coming, those are two guys that have a lot of potential. It’s all going to come down to not the D-corps coming together but the whole team.
“We have to start creating a belief system that we didn’t start with this year. Until that happens, there will be tough times. But I think the talks we’ve had here toward the end guys realize there has to be change.”
Next year is No. 6 for Myers. Close to now-or-never time.