30 in 30: Revival by Myers could be Sabres' X-factor
On the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, an "outstanding personal achievement" ranks among the most stressful events an adult can face.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers knows all about outstanding personal achievement and the stress that comes with it. In 2009-10, Myers became one of a select group of defensemen to win the Calder Trophy and his team won the Northeast Division. A rabid fan base deemed the 19-year-old the future of the franchise, and the organization responded in the summer of 2011 by signing him to a seven-year, $38.5 million deal.
Myers' star then fell as quickly as it rose.
Myers, who at 6-foot-8, 227 pounds is a rare combination of size and skill, endured a minor sophomore slump that extended into a deep malaise by the time the 2012-13 season, his fourth in the NHL, rolled around.
Myers has yet to match his Calder numbers (11 goals, 37 assists, plus-13 rating) in the three seasons since. The nadir of his nosedive can be traced to Feb. 9, when coach Lindy Ruff made Myers, at that point a team-worst minus-9, a healthy scratch for a weekend back-to-back against the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.
Myers' numbers did not balloon after the benching -- he finished the season with three goals, five assists and a minus-8 rating in 39 games -- but his confidence and commitment grew. Now, following some organizational moves and carrying a new sense of personal responsibility, Myers is poised to surge again in 2013-14.
First, the Sabres fired Ruff and promoted noted talent developer Ron Rolston from Rochester of the American Hockey League on Feb. 20. Rolston was charged with nurturing Buffalo's stable of young players and prospects, with Myers one of his most pressing projects. After Buffalo removed the interim tag from Rolston on May 7, Myers expressed excitement at developing under the coach.
"For me, I thought it went really well with Ron the way we communicated with each other," Myers told WGR 550 radio. "He was really positive with me, and the bottom line is I've got to be a lot better than I was this year. I think Ron helped out with that since he came in, I thought I got better towards the end of the year."
In the offseason, Buffalo traded a minor-league forward to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who partnered with Myers during his Calder-winning season. The organization no doubt hopes the veteran can anchor Myers as he did three seasons ago.
On a personal level, Myers told reporters at season's end that he planned to spend part of the offseason in Buffalo to work on his conditioning, diet and overall discipline. A common knock against Myers is his tendency for slow starts, and the organization is hopeful this individual focus and development will help its high-earning star out of the gate.
The good news is that at 23 years old, Myers is young for an NHL defenseman, and he has been far more productive in his first seasons than the star to which he is most often compared, Zdeno Chara. Like Chara at his age, Myers is growing into his frame and learning how to use his size on both sides of the puck.
Due to his lavish contract and the youth of the Sabres, Myers will remain under the microscope in Buffalo. Rolston told NHL.com he planned to give prospects a chance in training camp and wouldn't hesitate to shuffle the lineup at any point in 2013-14. With so many young players potentially rotating into First Niagara Center, consistent production, energy and maturity from Myers will be paramount to his team's success.
Rolston acknowledged Myers' importance in a press conference this summer.
"I think he understands where he needs to go and the growth he needs to have here, especially in the summer to get himself prepared for being an elite defenseman and one of the best defensemen in this league, which he's been before, we know he can be next year," Rolston said. "But a lot of that's going to come in the preparation and his growth over the summer, just to continue to obviously, one, work on his body, and then, two, just make sure he's just simplifying things and playing within himself.
"And when that happens, he's going to be a dominant player for us next year."