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Photo Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Myers has struggled in Alex Edler’s absence

Jim Benning showered Tyler Myers with praise in his press conference with the 6’7″ defender back on July 1, singling out his size, ability to jump into the rush, and versatility to play with Quinn Hughes or in a shutdown role with Alex Edler as assets he would bring to the team over the course of his five-year, $30 million contract. When asked about Myers’ role in Winnipeg as a bottom pairing defender, Benning has said that he believes Myers is a player who will hit his stride with the increased opportunity he would receive in Vancouver.

It was clear that based on the significant money the Canucks spent on Myers, which tied him for the team’s highest paid defenceman, the Canucks’ front office viewed Myers as a player who could be an effective top-four defender over the next few years. Jim Benning clearly knew he had to improve the team’s defense, and many observers believed he had accomplished exactly that by signing him. While it’s clear that Myers is an upgrade on the likes of Gudbranson and Del Zotto on the right side, we have yet to see the defenseman Jim Benning advertised back in July.

Arguably the best measure of a player is the Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) from Evolving-Hockey. It measures a player’s isolated impact and accounts for the quality of competition, quality of teammates and zone starts. This season, we can see that Myers has been a great driver for offense, but has also been extremely porous defensively.

myers 19.20

In fact, he’s given up more than he’s been able to generate, which ultimately means he’s hurting the Canucks more than he’s helping. Over the course of the season, one should expect the contrast between Myers’ offensive and defensive numbers to lessen and normalize to the rates we have seen from him over the last three seasons combined. The chart below shows that summary.

myers wpg

Myers fared slightly better in a lesser role during his time in Winnipeg. He was less of a high-event player and won the Corsi battle, but still found himself on the wrong side of the expected goal share. This is because he’s been prone to giving up higher danger chances, an area in which he continues to struggle. At 5-on-5, Myers has given up the most high danger goals against and shot attempts against of any Canucks defender. This has been the crux of his defensive issues.

Aside from the underlying numbers, Myers hasn’t fared well in terms of points either, potting 1 goal and 7 assists through 36 games. That’s good for 0.22 points per game, which would be his lowest rate since his 2012-13 season with the Sabres.

A recent development that’s certainly affecting Myers’ play is the injury of Alex Edler. The Canucks undoubtedly miss the veteran defender, but no one may be more eager to see his return than Tyler Myers. Edler has been out with an upper-body injury since November 30th and Myers has relied on to play more tough minutes in his absence.

Myers’ season hadn’t exactly been anything to write home about prior to Edler’s injury, either, but this could be attributed to adjusting to a new system and new teammates – at least to some extent.  Having said that, when a team hands out $30 million to a player in free agency, they need that player to step up and increase their level of play in all areas. Since the Edler injury, Myers hasn’t done that.

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The following table shows splits of Myers’ 5-on-5 statistics before and after the Edler injury via Natural Stat Trick.

TOI/g Points CF/60 CA/60 xGF/60 xGA/60
W/Edler 17:27 4 65.71 (1st) 60.02 (5th) 2.64 (1st) 2.77 (6th)
Wo/Edler 19:28 4 60.01 (2nd) 57.4 (3rd) 2.29 (2nd) 2.54 (4th)

There are a few things that jump out at us from the table. From left to right we can see that his time on ice per game at 5-on-5 has jumped two minutes, which is a rather sizeable uptick. A similar increase is represented at all strengths, meaning almost all of his additional ice time has come at 5-on-5, which makes the jump in even-strength TOI all the more notable.

When we look at his Corsi and expected goal metrics, we can see that Myers is a very high-event player, meaning he both creates and gives up a lot of shots and scoring chances. This generally results in positive outcomes, assuming your team is able to produce a higher Corsi and expected goals for rate than against when you’re on the ice. In Myers’ case, he has been able to do that with Corsi all season, but not with expected goals.

It’s also interesting to see that he has been less effective offensively as both his Corsi for and expected goals for rates have been declining since Edler’s injury, but his Corsi against and expected goals for against have improved. It seems as though he’s sacrificed some of his offensive game to reign it in and focus on the defensive end as he’s given more minutes and a higher quality of competition.

Upon Edler’s return, it will be crucial for Myers to settle back into a role more suitable for him with fewer minutes and easier competition. It would be ideal for Myers to continue with the recently improved defensive shot suppression metrics, but get back to his offensive play driving ways.

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It’s key for high-event defensemen like Myers to find balance in their game. He needs to continue to his strong transitional play, but not give up quality entries or shots in his own end. It’s certainly easier said than done, but he will need to find that balance as the number of remaining games quickly lessens.

It’s reasonable to expect Myers to drift back to the numbers we saw him put up in Winnipeg, but unfortunately, based on his play in over 600 games, I don’t believe we should expect him to play like the defenceman Benning thinks is worth the July 1 contract. Fortunately for the big man, Edler participated in yesterday’s optional skate and is progressing well.