When Jim Benning and Co. reconstructed the Vancouver Canucks’ blueline this past offseason, everyone — even the optimists — had some of the same basic concerns. One of them was the apparent conundrum of who to pair with Tyler Myers.
In 2021, Quinn Hughes let in more than a third of his goals-against while paired with Myers, despite that only representing about 15% of his total five-on-five ice-time. That clearly wasn’t a good option, and Hughes was supposed to reunite with Travis Hamonic, anyway.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, meanwhile, came to Vancouver as the de facto shutdown defender on the left side, which put him into a role that didn’t seem like much of a fit for Myers, either. It was expected by most that Ekman-Larsson would form a defensive duo with Tucker Poolman.
That left the rookie Jack Rathbone as Myers’ most likely partner, which read as a recipe for disaster — as well as a strange place to stash Myers and his $6 million salary.
But then training camp arrived, and Hamonic did not, and the plan changed. Poolman was tapped to fill the “Chris Tanev” gap on Hughes’ right side. Rathbone got hooked up with the unexpectedly roster-present Kyle Burroughs.
And Myers joined OEL on the pairing that would be thrown out against opposing top lines more often than not, potentially solving two issues at once as he did.
Five games in, the experiment has not resulted — as many hypothesized — in an explosion of defensive miscues and goals against. It’s early, but the OEL/Myers pairing actually seems to be working. Much of the credit has to be handed to Ekman-Larsson, who has already silenced most critics of his play (if not of his contract).
But Myers deserves some kudos, too, for finally playing like the defender he’s being paid to be.
In 2021, Myers was simply not reliable. He bled goals-against, dragged down anyone he was partnered with, and made embarrassing gaffes on a seemingly nightly basis. His gap control deteriorated until it was a constant concern, and that just shouldn’t be the case for a player with a 12’ wingspan. It was enough to have the majority of the fanbase hoping Myers would be exposed to Seattle.
The notion that he’d start out the 2021/22 season in a shutdown role — and succeed — would have seemed laughable a few months ago. But snicker all you want, it’s happening.
Through five games, Myers has played the majority of his minutes against opposing top lines, and he’s posting some of his best numbers in Vancouver. Compare that to 2021, in which Myers faced a far easier deployment than the average NHL defender, and still struggled.
We’ll take a moment here to stress again that this is a miniature sample size, representing less than a 16th of the full regular season. But the sample is encouraging.
Despite the deployment, Myers is one of only three Vancouver defenders with positive possession ratings. His pairing has been on the ice for five even-strength goals for and only six against, meaning he’s just a single goal away from a perfect balance.
His control of scoring chances might be a little under 50%, but that’s perhaps to be expected given the level of competition he’s facing. The important thing is that the Canucks are coming away from a Myers Vs. Top Line matchup and breaking even on a nightly basis.
It’s an incredibly valuable factor in the team’s play that just hasn’t existed in years prior, and it may be going even better than it looks on the fancy stat sheet.
A couple of years ago, this same author wrote a piece entitled “Tyler Myers Vs Advanced Stats” that pondered whether Myers, with his unique physical attributes and player profile, might have something in his game that analytics couldn’t quantify. The general conclusion seemed to be that there was something intangible there.
Whatever it was, that x-factor went away last season. But now it’s back, with a vengeance, and it being here to stay is key to the Canucks’ continued on-ice success in 2021/22.
Myers is still a difficult player to assess. Analytics don’t reflect very kindly on him, and oftentimes, neither does the eye-test. Myers’ gaffes, like him, are often super-sized, and hard to ignore.
In Game One, Myers got caught staring at Jesse Puljujarvi as the Oilers’ winger scored the first goal of the season.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 14, 2021
But then the good side of Myers’ game has also been on visual display throughout the early going in in 2021/22.
He blocks shots with aplomb, even when he doesn’t always do so gracefully. He leads the team in blocked shots, and ranks fourth in hits.
And if you thought we’d pass up an opportunity to show you that crushing blow on Duncan Keith again in beautiful slow-motion, you don’t really know us at all.
Myers with a hit on Keith. Daniel Sedin is smiling somewhere right now 🤷
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) October 14, 2021
Of course, Myers hasn’t just jumped up into the play to annihilate scumbags. He’s been very active in the rush, putting those long legs to work to generate passing options for his teammates as they streak up the ice. He’s picked up a couple of assists for his efforts, and probably could have had a few more along the way if luck were on his side. He currently leads the team in Expected Goals For.
True, Myers has been getting eaten alive on the penalty kill, but so has every single Vancouver PKer — and the primary issues there seem to be with the forwards, not the blueliners.
So, in summary, Myers has started out the 2021/22 season as a defender who can play heavy minutes against opposing top lines, break relatively even, keep opponents honest with his physical play, and contribute to the Canucks’ offence.
Now, is all that really worth $6 million a year?
Who cares? It’s everything Vancouver needs to be competitive this year. Should the rest of the roster play up to its potential, the only thing really missing from the mix was a shutdown pairing, and the Canucks may have already found one. It’s not an ideal one, but it doesn’t need to be. Let Hughes and Poolman thrive on softer minutes. Let Rathbone, Burroughs, and Luke Schenn clean up the leftovers. If the Canucks can break even when the McDavids of the division are on the ice, the rest of the team should be able to eke out a win in the surrounding margins most nights.
Best of all? Both Myers and Ekman-Larsson seem to be doing a fine job of making the other look good. In terms of cap management, the Canucks simply couldn’t have afforded to spend more than $13 million on two sub-par defenders. Having those players instead be the most reliable members of the blueline is a major difference-maker. In fact, it may be the difference-maker when it comes to the Canucks making or missing the playoffs come April 2022.
All Myers has to do now is keep it up.