It’s really easy to talk about a player suffering from a sophomore slump. It’s easy– and sometimes lazy. Really, what does that even mean? I get it– it’s a player’s second season and they struggle. But why? Why does that player who showed so much promise in his rookie year regress so severely?
There’s a deeper question that isn’t answered here (even though people think they’re answering the question). It’s like asking why someone died and hearing, “Old age.” Does that mean the human body sees 90 candles on a birthday cake and instantly ceases to function properly? Hell no. It means there was heart failure, or liver failure, or slight pneumonia that the older person couldn’t deal with. THAT is what killed them. Not some mythical “old age syndrome.”
So when a 2nd-year player starts to struggle, there’s always something more going on than the kid’s body hitting the 83 game mark. Sometimes they didn’t work as hard in the summer. Sometimes they take their spot on the team for granted and aren’t as hungry as they originally were. Who knows? But for every player who deals with this common occurrence, there are invariably a unique set of circumstances for each player.
This season, Tyler Myers looks like he’s the poster boy for the sophomore slump. Like Steve Mason before him, the defending Calder Trophy winning defenseman is having a nightmare encore act. In the early going, he’s a league-worst -10. Fairly impressive considering a) it’s only been 12 games; b) the next worst guy on the team is a -5; and c) there’s a defenseman on his own team who is a +9. Being the worst plus/minus guy and being second on the team in total ice time is not exactly the way to fly under the radar. On a related note, his 20 giveaways are an NHL worst (tied). Somehow, I think being the worst in the NHL in the giveaway department might have something to do with him being the league worst in the plus/minus department. Then again, leading the NHL in turnovers isn’t anything new.
Keep in mind that even when Myers was playing at his best last season he was prone to occasionally coughing up the puck. You must have some talent if you can win a Calder Trophy after leading the NHL in giveaways. -Kukla’s Korner
The easy answer to explain Myers’ demise is that he doesn’t have Henrik Tallinder to bail him out like last season. While the Sabres had high hopes for the 8’3” defenseman, they paired him with their best blueliner to help ease the transition. Any mistakes he made were minimized because Tallinder was there to help pick up the slack. When he needed to exit the zone, Tallinder was there to give him an outlet option. When he rushed up the ice, Tallinder was there to stay at home and limit the opposition’s scoring chances in the event of a turnover.
Looking at the difference between last season and the present, the Sabres might be depending on him to do too much. Unfortunately, that decision wasn’t made by Lindy Ruff in the middle of a regular season game—it was made in July when Buffalo allowed their 2nd and 3rd best defensemen to walk and replaced them with Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn. With that decision, the organization made the conscious decision to hand the keys to the defense over to 20-year-old Myers.
By all accounts, it looks like Myers knows what the organization did as well. As cliché as it is to say a young player is struggling because he’s trying to do too much, it’s certainly the case here. Instead of making the safe play up the boards, fans have watched him repeatedly try to make things happen when it’s just not there. He tries to rush the puck when he needs to chip it out. He tries to crash the net when there are no forwards able to cover the blue line for him. He drifts too far down the half-boards and it only takes one transitional pass for him to get caught behind the play. Any one of those could be a small problem for a maturing player. Put them together and you have a player who is struggling to find his way.
Nothing exemplified his struggles more than a sequence of events against the Dallas Stars this weekend. On the power play, Myers was left to bring the puck up himself out of his own zone. Momentarily, he lost the puck and it looked like he was going to give up a breakaway. At the last minute, he was able to steal the puck back—before Jamie Benn stole the puck yet again going in on net and leading to a goal for Steve Ott. In five seconds, Myers gave up the puck twice on the power play in his own zone and gave up a short-handed goal against. And he had ZERO help on the play.
Last year, he gets the puck out. Maybe it’s because he would have had a defensive partner back there to help him out. Maybe last year the team wouldn’t depend on him to take it out of the zone by himself. And honestly, last year everything he touched turned to gold. Maybe we’re watching him regress to the mean.
Until Myers turns things around, we’re going to be privileged to a multitude of sophomore slump articles. But when you hear those things getting thrown about, think about the pieces to his game that are causing the slump. Remember, it’s not like he woke up one day in the off-season and thought it would be a great idea to screw with Sabres fans and suck. Part of it is because he hasn’t been put in the same situation as he was last season. Part of it is because his safety net has been removed and the training wheels are off. And you know what? Part of it is because he’s trying to be the same player as he was last year.
As soon as the Sabres realize that the expectations might be too much, he might be able to turn things around. More importantly, as soon as Myers realizes that the expectations aren’t realistic, he will turn things around.