By Sal Capaccio
He weighs almost 230 pounds.
As a rookie NHL defenseman, he scored 11 goals, added 37 assists, was a +13, and won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year.
All of that sounds great. And it is. But for Tyler Myers, all of that may also be his problem.
Since that terrific rookie season of 2009-10, Myers has regressed more and more each year, both in statistics and play on the ice as a defenseman. His 6-8, 227 pound frame is supposed to allow him to be a physical presence in his own zone. His ability to move the puck from his own end and through the neutral zone is supposed to allow him to be a contributor to the Sabres offense.
Neither is happening now.
Some will point to the 7-year, $38.5 million contract he signed in September of 2011 as a reason for his poor play. Maybe he can't handle the expectations? Maybe he's not working as hard now after getting paid so well at the age (at the time) of 21? One or both of those may be true, or at least contributing factors.
But I say it's "hockey identity confusion." Who is Tyler Myers as a hockey player? What kind of player does he think he should be? Does his head coach want him to be? Do his teammates expect him to be?
Is his game best-suited to use his size as a physical deterrent for opposing forwards and to help clear the net in front of Ryan Miller? A stay-at-home defenseman who embodies the "tougher-to-play-against" mantra Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier have been clamoring for since last season ended?
Or is it best-suited to be the puck-carrying, offensive-defenseman who uses his mobility and skill to help start the rush for his forwards and joins the play in the opponents zone?
The easy answer is "he should be both at different times." But right now, Myers isn't even one of those things. So, how can he be expected to be both? His "hockey identity confusion" may be the cause of not playing either role well enough to
help his team win even stay on the ice for this team.
You've heard the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none." That applies to people who can do more than one thing well, but nothing great. Well, Myers certainly hasn't mastered any part of his game yet. And that in itself would be fine if he was at least a jack of several areas, performing all of them well enough to help his team win. But he's not. And he's actually hurt his team when he's on the ice. His "hockey identity confusion" isn't getting to the point of a "hockey identity crisis." It's already there! That's why he was a healthy scratch two games in a row.
Myers has been such a liability on defense - and no help on offense so far - it can't hurt the Sabres (or him) any worse if he were to simply work on and focus on one of those areas of his game. If he did, and it got better (which it will), my guess is the other part of his game will follow.
Of course, his head coach has something to do with this. He has to figure out what he wants Myers to be. Maybe he has. Maybe he's talked with number-57 about it. Maybe Myers just hasn't responded to what he wants. Or maybe Ruff is contributing to Myers' "hockey identity confusion" by sending mixed signals to what should be one of his best overall players. Whatever it is, and whatever percentage you want to place the blame, both share the responsibility of getting this crisis fixed.
If they can't, the general manager may be forced to fix it in a different way. Of course, at this point, that's only if another team is even willing to help him do that.
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