It’s no secret that the Canucks’ defense has been in dire need of a shakeup over the past few years. They’ve been in the bottom-half of the league in goals allowed per game for the past three seasons (including back-to-back years in the bottom six in 2016-17 and 2017-18), and have been one of the league’s worst teams at getting offense from the back end over that span. The team’s front office did their best to fix these issues on July 1, signing Tyler Myers to a five-year deal worth $30 million, Jordie Benn to a two-year deal worth $4 million, and Oscar Fantenberg to a one-year deal worth $850k.
Fantenberg is a low-cost, depth signing and Thomas Williams did a good job explaining what the Canucks can expect from Jordie Benn; so today we’ll be taking a look at the biggest new addition, Tyler Myers, and what he can bring to the Canucks over the next five years.
On paper, Tyler Myers looks like a fine addition to the Canucks’ right side, where the Canucks have struggled with injury and poor performance for years. At 6’8″, he’s one of the biggest defenders in the league, he’s hovered around the 50% mark in shot shares for most of his time with the Winnipeg Jets, and he had 31 points last year, more than any Canucks defender not named Alex Edler.
If you take a deeper look into his profile beyond simple counting stats and underlying shot-based metrics, however, the issues with Myers’ contract will start to come into focus. Out of the 20 defenders to suit up for the Jets since he joined them in 2015, Myers has been the fourth-worst by expected goals and fifth-worst in raw goals-for percentage.
Micah Blake McCurdy’s Threat model, which attempts to isolate the individual impact of a player on shot rates from the impact of a number of confounding factors such as teammates, their opponents, score effects, zones starts, and home-ice advantage, doesn’t look very favourably on Myers, either. Threat estimates Myers to be slightly below league average in both the offensive and defensive zones and on the man advantage.* The EvolvingHockey Goals Above Replacement (GAR) model doesn’t look very kindly on Myers, either, placing him in the bottom-fifty among qualifying defenders.
Tyler Myers (5x6m with Vancouver) is very defensively weak, both at 5v5 and at 4v5, doesn't help a power-play to speak of and has a rough penalty differential. He is, however, very tall. pic.twitter.com/DlyVqN0Tw1
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 1, 2019
Tyler Myers has been essentially replacement level to bellow in 7 of his 8 past seasons. pic.twitter.com/ycizcS0utV
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) June 18, 2019
The one area Tyler Myers has been significantly above average in over the course of his career is time-on-ice, both at even-strength and on the power play. He’s been the Jets third-most utilized defenseman in all situations behind Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. That’s what’s allowed him to put up relatively impressive counting stats despite being only an average offensive producer on a per-minute basis. In this respect, he’s similar to Brandon Sutter, another player the Canucks overpaid who had a similar affliction and whose salary they will be in tough to shed this off-season.
Based on my viewings of Myers over the past few seasons, I’d say the assertions that he’s a below-replacement-level player are a little extreme. He can skate; he’s got a shot; he’s very big, which still has some value in the postseason; and he can help a team’s third pair even if his two-way play isn’t what you’d hope for from a player with his reputation.
The issue is that the Canucks didn’t sign Myers to play on the bottom pairing. They’ve made him the 27th-highest paid defender in the league, indicating they believe he’s more than capable of holding down a role in the top-four. While he’s certainly an upgrade on a lot of the players that made appearances on the right side last season, my concern is that the biggest effect he’ll have on the roster will be taking playing time away from Troy Stecher, who is probably the team’s best right-shot defender at the moment now that Chris Tanev has suffered a pretty steep decline and he’s proven himself against tougher competition in a top-four role in Tanev’s absence.
The Canucks have certainly improved their defense heading into this summer, though perhaps not to the extent the Vancouver media would have you believe. Jordie Benn and Quinn Hughes are obvious upgrades on Ben Hutton and the revolving door of bottom-pairing left-handed defenders the Canucks trotted out last season, but replacing Stecher with Myers in the top four is a lateral move at best and Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are another year older and in all likelihood less effective, too. Despite the additions, the Canucks still lack organizational depth at the position, and our only an injury or two away from being in a similar position to the one they found themselves in in 2018-19. If the Canucks’ plan remains to lean heavily on the Edler-Tanev pairing, recent history would suggest it’s even money the Canucks will be without half of their top-four for significant stretches.
Overpaying in free agency is often just the cost of getting better, but Tyler Myers isn’t exactly the soundest bet to make. It’s one thing to hand out big contracts to elite play-drivers or offensive producers, but Myers is neither. He’s a 4-5 defenseman at absolute best, who’s rapidly approaching a decline if not already declining.
Meanwhile, the cap space issues many dismissed just a few months ago are finally beginning to come to fruition. They currently don’t have enough space to sign Brock Boeser without moving out salary, and that’s with Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson still on entry-level deals.
It’s nearly impossible for a team to improve and become a contender without running into cap space issues. The Chicago Blackhawks of years past had to jettison a lot of talent to stay financially solvent during their heyday and the present-day Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets are currently dealing with similar issues. The difference is that those teams have/had a large collection of high-end talent and a winning record to show for their investment. The Canucks have been one of the league’s worst teams over the span of four years, and already have cap trouble. What’s going to happen when they actually have some good players they have to pay?