Myers the man — not Big Buff
All things considered, he’s the keeper
HE’S a mountain of a defenceman, shoots right-handed, isn’t afraid to jump into a rush and he led the Winnipeg Jets in ice time in a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday night. Dustin Byfuglien? Nope — Tyler Myers. Very quietly and in small, often imperceptible steps over the past few weeks, Myers has made a case with his play it’s he — not Byfuglien — who is now this team’s top defenceman.
Myers has led the Jets in ice time three of the last six games — a mantle that used to belong to Byfuglien almost exclusively. He’s also led the Jets blue-liners offensively — he has six points in the last five games, while Byfuglien has one point in his last six games — and Myers has done so while being matched up against the other team’s top line most nights.
And, as of Sunday night, Myers has also saved one more game for the Jets with his face this season than Byfuglien.
Suddenly, Byfuglien doesn’t seem as indispensable as he did only a month ago. That makes for another important variable for Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to ponder as he considers what to do with Byfuglien, an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season who has asked for a princely US$55 million over eight years to re-sign in Winnipeg.
Myers’ contract? He’s locked up for three more seasons after this one and is looking like one of the best bargains in the NHL — his salary is US$4 million next season, US$3.5 million the season after that and US$3 million in 2018-19.
There’s also one final set of numbers to consider — Myers is 25, Byfuglien is 30.
How good is Myers right now? Well, he was the coveted piece in the trade last season that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to the Buffalo Sabres and Jets head coach Paul Maurice says Myers has exceeded even the lofty expectations the club had for him at that time.
“From the time he came in till now, his whole body of work is probably better than even we expected. He’s been that good for us,” Maurice said Monday after practice at the MTS Centre. “We’ve moved partners around for him, he changes roles, he plays against the other team’s best now very regularly. And he contributes to the offence.
“But the consistency in his game has been fantastic. He doesn’t have too many off-nights and even on his off-nights, he’s still playing against the other team’s best and a lot of times getting it done. He’s been very, very good.”
Myers has flourished since he was paired a few weeks ago with Toby Enstrom and his ensuing explosion of offence — his two goals and four assists in the last five games are almost one-half the 14 points he generated all season — has been a welcome addition to his game.
And a necessary one if Cheveldayoff is contemplating looking beyond Byfuglien and seeing Myers as the man he wants to anchor this team’s blue-line for years to come.
“I’ve been very happy the last three or four years with how far my defensive game has come. And that’s first and foremost for me,” Myers said Monday. “But now I have that exactly where I want it, it’s allowed me to take a little more risk offensively.
“I’ve been really happy with my offensive game. I feel like I’ve been generating a lot of chances, right from Game 1 this season. And now in these last 10 games, I feel like I’ve been capitalizing a little better. Now, the most important thing is just finding that consistency in my offensive game.”
While he was held off the scoresheet against the Penguins, the two saves Myers made in the final minute — stretching his 6-8, 230-pound frame across the Jets goal line and taking two pucks to the face — saved the win for the Jets and made highlight films continent-wide.
It was above and beyond the normal call of duty, but Myers made it sound a little like he was repaying a debt of gratitude to a team he says gave his career new life after what had become a difficult situation for him in Buffalo.
“I owe a lot to the Jets,” says Myers. “I don’t think I realized how much I would like coming here until I got here. It was one of those situations where I was all-in for the rebuild in Buffalo and I was ready to go through those tougher times to get better.
“But I also understood that not only was a change necessary to kick-start Buffalo, but — as things have turned out — it kind of kick-started me again too.”
‘I also understood that not only was a change necessary to kick-start Buffalo, but — as things have turned out — it kind of kick-started me again too’ — Jets defenceman Tyler Myers, on his move from the Sabres to Winnipeg ‘From the time he came in till now, his whole body of work is probably better than even we expected. He’s been that good for us’ — Jets coach Paul Maurice
Tyler Myers (lef t) holds t wo significant advantages over blue-line compatriot Dustin Byfuglien: his age and contract situation.