Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Their isn't a microscope big enough to fit in all eyes that will be on Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers these next couple of seasons. At 6'8, 211 lbs. it's really not hard to miss him when he's on the ice and he can skate like the breeze when he gets motoring, thus a nickname like "The Big Easy."
However, the Houston, Texas-born, Calgary, Alberta-raised 24 yr. old still has plenty of work to do. When his confidence is low and hesitation creeps into his game, oft-times he'll look like baby giraffe all wobbly-kneed and having a hard time figuring out how stay upright.
Myers was a product of the insistence of Sabres Head Scout at the time, Kevin Devine, and his selection by the Sabres is a story itself.
At the 2008 NHL Draft in Ottawa, ON, the Buffalo Sabres were sitting in the No. 13 slot, one pick behind the Los Angeles Kings. As the draft rolled down to the 12th pick, Devine was adamant that then GM Darcy Regier make a trade with the Kings for the opportunity to select Myers.
Here's how it played out.
The Sabres and Kings were both in a position to pick the best two defensemen on the board--Myers and Colton Teubert. Regier offered a trade proposal, but it all hinged upon which d-man Kings GM Dean Lombardi was interested in drafting. If it was different than Regier's choice the trade would go through. If they were the same, no deal.
Both GM's took out their pens and wrote the names of the players they wanted on napkins. When they flipped them over, Lombardi had written Teubert's name. He proceeded to trade the 12th overall pick to the Sabres for the 13th pick and a 2009 third rounder.
Myers would spend one more season in junior with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. He captained the team to the Ed Chynoweth Cup (WHL Championship) in 2009, was named the WHL Playoff MVP and proceeded to sign his three-year entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabres.
The awards kept coming for the 19 yr. old as he scored 11 goals and had 48 points in 82 games for the Sabres. He would go on to win the NHL's Calder Trophy for the 2009-10 season, Ryan Miller would win the Vezina as the league's top goalie and the team would end up finishing first in the Northeast Division.
A "sophomore slump" would hit Myers his second year as his production dipped to 10 goals and 37 points. Nothing precipitous, but enough to catch one's eye. The decline in production could be blamed upon two definitive factors--teams had plenty of tape on his game and his d-partner from the previous season, Henrik Tallinder, left via free agency.
Tallinder provided Myers with a calming, veteran presence to fall back upon. With Tallinder covering his rookie mistakes, Myers was allowed the opportunity to just play the game using his long, rolling strides to move up-ice and join the play.
But when Regier and Tallinder couldn't come together on terms of a contract extension, the defenseman signed a three-year deal with the NJ Devils.
Similar to what happened in 2007 when Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were allowed to walk, a young player, in this case Myers, was put in a position he wasn't quite ready for.
As with all the Sabres from the 2011 season onward, the bottom began falling out and ended up crashing to the ice last season.
In Myers' case, the deconstruction of his confidence and game during that time period can be attributed to a number of factors both external and internal.
Tallinder's departure was enough to shake his confidence and the 2010-11 season saw him paired with a multitude of defense partners. Both he and the team would work their way through the changes and ended up finishing the season losing a seven-game series to the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs.
From that moment forward, a series of events would send him spiraling downward.
The Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller in 2011 would expose the overall fragility of the team Regier constructed and the dismantling of his core would commence at the 2012 trade deadline. The team would finish the season in a familiar spot for that core group--9th place in the conference, just outside of the playoffs.
In the summer of 2012, the NHL locked out the players and Myers went to Austria to play. He suffered an ankle injury, but declared himself 100% ready to go when the league resumed play in January, 2013. That injury would keep him from being in top shape when the Sabres hit the ice for the lockout-shortened season. It showed as Myers had the worst season of his career to that point.
And the hits just kept coming as long time Sabres bench boss Lindy Ruff was fired leaving a very green Ron Rolston to take over for the remainder of the 2012-13 season.
That disaster would send Myers even further into a scoring funk. He hit his low point in the early part of the 2013-14 season. Under Rolston and his philosophies, Myers would register one goal and three assists in 20 games.
Oddly enough, even though he wasn't putting up the numbers, it looked as if he was in the early stages of a turnaround. When Ted Nolan took over, the full burden of Rolston's X's and O's was lifted and Myers was allowed to roll on and just play hockey again.
His response was eight goals and 10 assists in 42 games before succumbing to an elbow injury and broken ribs which kept him out of the lineup for 15 of the last 16 games.
Myers will start fresh this season with a full camp under Nolan and his staff. He's looked upon as the teams' top defenseman and it's a critical year for him. All eyes are upon him, especially those of GM, Tim Murray. Myers is not Murray's guy and there's a ton of interest him throughout the NHL, most notably rumors coming out a few months ago that the Detroit Red Wings may be interested in trading for him.
Although the 7 yr./$38.5M contract extension he signed in 2011 seemed lengthy and exorbitant, it was well designed. At the time of the signing, the going rate for a top-pairing d-man was in the $5-6M range. And as of right now, the going rate for a #2/3 defenseman is right around $5M. Myers is in that range.
Regier took advantage of the financial freedom afforded him by owner Terry Pegula and front-loaded the contract, which is an added bonus should the Sabres wish to trade him. There are many teams in the NHL on an internal budget with plenty of cap space who would take a long, hard look at a young defenseman to slot anywhere around the top-pairing.
To further emphasize how well this contract was designed, although it does contain a no-movement/modified no-trade clause, that won't kick in until the 2016-17 season.
For the present, though, Sabres fans can probably look forward to another season of progress for Myers with maybe the only question being how high he can climb.
It was a pretty deep hole he was in. Usually when a player or person goes from a high down into a deep valley, they come out stronger and end up on a higher peek then they were before. It's something that's determined by the individual, based upon their maturity-level and driven by how hard they want to work.
Myers seems to have all those factors working for him and he has a coach that will help him get there.
Roll-on, big guy.
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
RHD, Tyler Myers