It’s one thing to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It’s another to have those adjectives describe your season.
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers has struggled mightily through the first quarter of the 2018-19 season, and his exceptionally poor play over the Jets’ past few contests has brought the situation closer to a head.
From Luxury to Liability
Coming into the season, it seemed as if having a veteran of 365 NHL games playing a third-pairing role, against the oppositions’ bottom-six, would be a boon for the Jets. Last season, Myers played in all 82 games, helped keep the Jets afloat when their blue line was ravaged with injuries, and played a key role in their run to the Western Conference Final. It was a rebound from his disastrous 2016-17 campaign, where he played just 11 games due to injuries and surgery.
Through the first twenty games of this season, however, Myers has been a liability and looked out of sorts even in a sheltered role.
The stats are not flattering. Myers has been on the ice for 19 even strength goals against as opposed to 15 even strength goals for, despite starting in the offensive zone 58.1 percent of the time, the highest among Jets defenseman. Conversely, he has started in the defensive zone just 41.9 percent of the time, lowest among Jets defensemen.
The fact the Jets are more likely to allow a goal than score one when Myers is on the ice — even though he begins his shifts in a favourable position nearly six-tenths of the time — is troubling and points to issues with the hulking defenseman’s play.
Also, that wasn't a good look on Tyler Myers' part. Again. It's become a bit of a theme for the #NHLJets defenceman.
— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) November 22, 2018
Myers does not use his 6-foot-8 frame or long reach to his advantage — he’s big, but doesn’t play big. “During his career, Myers has typically been defensively porous, allowing passes into the slot, and chances from the inner slot or high-danger area. He has struggled to use his lanky frame and huge reach to successfully defend lanes in the defensive zone,” Andrew Berkshire wrote recently.
Myers also turns the puck over a lot. Turnovers are an imperfect way to measure a defenseman’s effectiveness — even the most elite will amass a number of them simply by virtue of being on the ice. Not all turnovers are equal, either — offensive zone turnovers are far less costly than ones in the defensive zone. Myers’ turnovers are often the latter and committed in high-stakes D-zone situations that directly cause goals against.
Every mistake Myers makes goes in the net. Every. Mistake. It's actually impressive. #NHLJets
— Harrison Lee (@HLLivingLoco) November 22, 2018
The Jets’ past two games, against the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, were microcosms of Myers’ struggles. In Vancouver on Monday, he gave up a free pizza to Nikolay Goldobin, who strode into the slot and tucked one past the outstretched pad of Connor Hellebuyck.
In Calgary on Wednesday, Myers was directly responsible for two goals against. On the Flames’ first goal, he allowed Garnet Hathaway to pick his pocket near the blue line and the Flames to retain offensive zone control. A few seconds later and compounding matters, Myers was slow to cover Dylan Dube in front of the net, who slammed the puck through Hellebuyck off a centering pass.
Later in the period, Myers couldn’t handle a shoot-in, got blown past by Mark Jankowski behind the net, then stood near the blue paint as Jankowski banked the puck off Myer’s skate and in.
Myers Not Producing on Offence
Last season, Myers produced 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points — his highest total since 2010-11. He put up seven more points during the playoffs. This led some — including The Hockey Writers’ own Rob Mahon — to advocate that the Jets trade Myers while his stock was high.
This year, Myers has just one goal and two assists for three points, and his shooting percentage is a career-low 2.8. While Myers is not expected to carry the mail offensively, he is not strong enough from a defensive standpoint to justify having his offensive output peter off so drastically.
One would reasonably expect the Jets to have more than 15 even strength goals with Myers on the ice given how often he begins in the offensive zone. Increased offensive output would make his defensive gaffes a little easier to swallow.
Should Myers Sit?
During Wednesday’s edition of TSN 1290 Winnipeg’s The Big Show, the hosts discussed Myers’ struggles at length and what the Jets should do to solve them.
“He is struggling fiercely right now,” Troy Westwood said. “This isn’t a five-game span or anything like that. More or less since the season has started here, Tyler Myers is just off in a fairly substantial way here.”
“He hasn’t been anywhere near acceptable,” Brandon Rewucki added. “You’re kind of running out of options if you’re Paul Maurice right now.”
One solution is to plunk Myers in the press box to try to get him to refocus. He seems to have lost all his confidence after the preseason’s failed ‘left side’ experiment.
Replacing Myers Not So Simple
The Big Show hosts’ consensus was that Myers should not be benched just yet and that Maurice will likely give the 28-year-old the chance to play through his problems. However, they acknowledged the need for change if Myers does not get his game straightened out soon.
Replacing Myers, though, is not as simple as it seems.
One option the Jets have is to give Sami Niku some game action. They called up the smooth-skating, offensively dynamic Finn in the wake of Dmitry Kulikov’s injury, but the AHL’s 2017-18 top defenseman hasn’t seen any game action yet.
This isn’t a perfect solution, however, since Niku is left-handed. Asking the 21-year-old to play on his off-side in just his second career NHL game would be setting him up for failure. A more likely scenario, if the Jets opted to dress Niku, is that Ben Chiarot would play on his off-side with Myers’ current partner, Joe Morrow, so Niku could play with Dustin Byfuglien.
Breaking up Byfuglien and Chiarot is not something the Jets want to do, though. The duo has been solid all season long and were key to the Jets’ success prior to the laugher in Calgary.
Another possibility is to call up Tucker Poolman. The 25-year-old right-hander was quietly sturdy in 24 games for the Jets last season. Poolman is currently with the Manitoba Moose and has four points in 12 games.
Whatever the solution is, the Jets cannot abide Myers’ subpar play for much longer. They are in a good spot — third in the Central Division at American Thanksgiving — in spite of, not thanks to, the lanky blueliner. If Myers does not begin to contribute to the team’s success soon, the Jets need to turn to someone who can.