Tyler Myers' play started to go backwards when the Buffalo Sabres began their fall down the Eastern Conference standings five years ago. Now that Myers is on the rise again, the Sabres should end up using him as a cornerstone piece in their rebuild.
"Hopefully we will become [a top team] in another two years or so and then you'll see the true importance of Tyler Myers and what he really means," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.
Buffalo general manager Tim Murray is thinking along the same lines.
Murray has no desire to trade Myers, the 2009-10 Calder Trophy winner who is an improving 24-year-old defenseman, one of the bright spots in an expectedly difficult season for the Sabres, and signed through 2017-18 with a reasonable $5.5 million salary-cap charge.
"I've never made a call to another team on Tyler Myers," Murray told NHL.com. "I've had some calls, and I think it's kind of a domino effect where one or two teams see in other press, not Buffalo press, and called asking if it was true. I have not tried to trade this guy. Some teams have asked about availability. I've plainly said, 'I'm not trying to trade the guy, if you want to knock my socks off with an offer I'll listen,' but it would have to be a major, major trade for me to move this guy. I'm not pursuing that."
Defense - BUF
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 8
SOG: 56 | +/-: -7
The fact that Myers is only minus-7 despite starting 41.6 percent of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone and a combined 76.2 percent in the defensive zone and the neutral zone, according to faceoff data collected by War-on-ice, is actually quite remarkable.
The Sabres are the worst possession team in the NHL (37.5 percent Corsi-for at even strength), but Myers is consistently matched up against the opposition's best forward lines and routinely starting in the worst position.
Myers leads the Sabres in ice time per game (25:11) and has eight points in 35 games.
His true value to the Sabres was evident when he was recently out of the lineup. Buffalo went on its 10-3-0 run with a healthy Myers (he did not play Nov. 26 against Winnipeg, a 2-1 loss); he missed seven games from Dec. 21-Jan. 3 and the Sabres went 1-5-1.
Murray thinks Myers can be a cornerstone defenseman in Buffalo if, or in his mind, when the Sabres get good again.
"If we insulate him the way good teams insulate all the good players, I think he can be a high-minute shutdown guy that can transition the puck," Murray said. "He can do a lot of things that a lot of people can't do."
Myers won the Calder Trophy in 2009-10 with 48 points and a plus-13 rating in 82 games. The Sabres won the Northeast Division with 100 points.
But as the Sabres dropped in the Eastern Conference standings the following seasons (7th place to 9th to 12th to 16th) so too did Myers' production. Myers said his issues were more mental than physical.
"I've always been the type of person to put really big expectations on myself, I've always been really hard on myself, and I think after that rookie year I was just too hard on myself," Myers said. "I went into the following year a little…overwhelmed mentally. I think that's probably the best word for it. Not so much overwhelmed right away, but when things weren't going so well I think that's when I started to put too much pressure on myself to get back.
"It took a little time to get through it, but I've had a lot of help along the way. The past couple of years I've been really happy with how I'm approaching the game mentally. Physically it's not an issue, but I really worked on my mental game and right now it's exactly where I want it to be. I don't think I was even in this state even in my rookie year. I've grown a lot."
Myers' stronger mental makeup has allowed him to handle the rebuilding process going on in Buffalo, along with the trade rumors that constantly swirl around him, even if most have been unfounded.
"I'm a lot more even-keeled now," he said. "I think I'll always have high expectations for myself, but the way I handle those expectations and the way I approach the game now, it's much different than the way I was when I was younger. I'm in a place right now that's very good and a place where I can continue to grow not only as a player but a person off the ice as well."
He should continue to grow in Buffalo.
Physical and towering right-handed shooting defenseman who are 24 years old and who carry a reasonable cap charge for players who can play 25 minutes per game against the best forwards in the NHL are about as rare of a commodity as you can find in the League.
If the Sabres trade Myers now, odds are they'll be looking for a player just like him in two years, at which point Myers will be just entering his prime years with close to 500 games on his NHL resume.
Why trade an asset you have now if you know you're going to need that same asset in the future?
"That's why I'm not trying to trade him," Murray said.