Ron Rolston's career in Buffalo will be defined by how he develops young players. It's been hailed as his greatest strength. Not to mention that the rebuilding Sabres are in dire need of someone who can start turning things back in the right direction.
If there's one player who could make or break Rolston, it's Tyler Myers. There are few things more valuable in hockey than a dynamic No. 1 defenseman. And there are few things in Buffalo more puzzling than why Myers has not yet become one.
When Rolston was announced as head coach, Myers told WKBW's Shawn Stepner, “There's some confidence to build, with me especially... I think Ron helped me out a lot with that.”
A deeper look at Myers' performance under Rolston suggests the former Calder Trophy winner might have started to turn things around under the interim coach.
Early in Rolston's tenure, the 23-year-old defenseman revealed he'd been told by his new coach that he should focus on defensive play only and that Rolston “didn't care if he scored another point all season.” Well, he didn't score much under Buffalo's new head man - only five points in 23 games – but the defensive aspects of his game improved.
The goal of a defenseman should not only be to keep pucks out of the net, but to keep shots away from the netminder as well. Whether it be by clogging shooting lanes, forcing potential shooters to pass the puck, taking it away with a simple poke check or making a solid outlet pass, defenseman play a huge role in your team possessing the puck more than the opponent. So the more a team possesses the puck while a defenseman is on the ice, the fewer goals will be scored.
One way to measure this possession is a statistic called Relative Corsi – which compares the number of shots at the goal (shots on goal+blocked shots+misses shots) vs. the number of shots, blocks and misses by the opponent. The “relative” part compares how well a player did in terms of Corsi to their how their teammates performed.
Some of the league's best in Relative Corsi include Kris Letang, P.K. Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk and, maybe somewhat surprisingly, Christian Ehrhoff.
Under Rolston, Myers' Relative Corsi statistic went from down in the dumps to respectable.
Here's a closer look at where Myers was when Ruff was fired and where he ended the year (played 24 games under Rolston):
First 15 games (under Ruff): -13.6
End of the year: 0.8
First 15 games: -12.04
End of Year: -8.9
First 15 games: -8
End of Year: -9
Blocked shots per game
First 15 games: 0.8
Under Rolston 2.3
Offensive Zone Starts
First 15 games: 54.9
End of year: 50.9
Hits per game:
First 15 games:1.3
Under Rolston: 1.6
Here's what we have: A tiny sample of games that shows some evidence improvement in just about every area. And quotes that say he felt better about his game.
His Corsi and Relative Corsi improved quite a bit, his blocked shots and hits improved somewhat, his plus-minus was much better and his offensive zone starts were actually decreased – meaning he faced more difficult situations under Rolston. Also, it's worth noting that the statistic that tracks Quality of Competition went almost unchanged from the first 15 games to the end of the year.
Could it be that Myers was just returning to the mean? That he had a bad start and, like a .300 hitter in baseball who has a .200 month, went back to being a .300 hitter? Well, maybe. But last season Myers' Relative Corsi was second worst amongst Sabres' Dmen at -7.17. That's coming off a very strong 2010-11 in which his Rel Corsi was a team-best +11.1.
Whatever happened in between...that's hard to say. Pressure from Ruff? Contract? Conditioning?
It could be a number of things. But if the Sabres' organization is committed to Myers, they'll be hoping the small sample numbers turn into full seasons of him being a superstar again under Rolston.