The Buffalo Sabres have to decide who they want to keep from their current talent pool for what will be a multi-year rebuilding project. Since winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, Tyler Myers has been mostly inconsistent in his career, which has led to his name coming up repeatedly in the trade rumor mill. His trade value took a hit when Darcy Regier signed Myers to a big extension that set his cap hit at $5.5M for the next five years after this season. While it’s tempting during a rebuild to want to trade everything not nailed to the floor for future assets, the Sabres would be wise to stand pat and see what they have before trading a player whose career is historically projected to blossom in the next few years.
Consistency isn’t easy to find among men between ages 19 and 24. It isn’t what Sabres fans have been treated to so far with Tyler Myers. However, this is nothing new with the age or the position. Myers was taken 12th overall in 2008, in a first round loaded with promising defensemen. Of the 12 blue liners taken in that first round, three have emerged as bona fide top pairing blue liners (Drew Doughty at 2, Alex Pietrangelo at 4, and Erik Karlsson at 15).
The second tier include Myers, John Carlson, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Michael Del Zotto, Luca Sbisa, and Colton Teubert. I wouldn’t definitively put any of those players above Myers. I think there’s a lot of promise in that list, and also there’s Luke Schenn. Myers does make more than anyone in this tier, but he’s arguably the most promising of the bunch. He may not be the steadiest defenseman presently, but his upside outreaches most of the others, given his size and ability. That said, it’s hard to judge anyone drafted in 2008 as a fully developed pro. Even the aforementioned top three guys have their struggles at times. This is a young bunch with a lot of promise, but nothing is a given with guys mostly hovering around age 24.
Since we can’t predict these particular careers, let’s take a look at how other first round blue liners fared with more years of seasoning. Since Buffalo has Tyler Myers signed for five years, let’s go back five years and see where we might expect a highly touted defensive prospect to be at career-wise by age 29 or so, when Myers would be a free agent.
Seven blue liners were drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft. The first six (Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook, Brent Burns, and Mark Stuart) have all reached their peaks between years 5 and 10, if not a touch sooner. The only exception is the 30th overall pick, Shawn Belle, who has largely played in the minors to this point. Suter was a Norris trophy nominee for the first time in his career last year. Phaneuf was just signed to a seven year deal and is the best blue liner on his team by a mile. Brent Seabrook has been a top line defenseman for two Cup winners. The others have all proven to be solid players in at least one major facet of the game. The unifying trend of these top six? Not only have these players reached their peak in the last five years, but they’re still at an age where they warrant another big contract and can be in their prime for most of it.
Obviously it’s not fair to compare Tyler Myers to any of those players and expect that’s where he could/should be, but the 2003 class reflects the idea that a defenseman’s career trajectory is a long, wide arc that requires patience. Myers arrived in the NHL much sooner than most of his peers, and to this point he’s played more NHL games than all but three first round blue liners from 2008. His first 300 games have been rocky, but promising, and that’s nothing new for the position, and it certainly doesn’t warrant expulsion.
Keeping Myers for another five years ensures that Buffalo will see just what his prime looks like. He needs a proper coaching structure and some continuity on the team in order to give him a fair shot. It’s not a coincidence that the three best defenseman from the 2008 draft are on perennial playoff teams. Structure helps. There hasn’t been a lot of that in Buffalo for a while, but now that it’s arrived, it’s time to trust the system and see what young players can step up and thrive in a new environment. GM Tim Murray has said he will listen to all offers, but it’s hard to believe a smart man like Murray would even entertain anything but a monster offer that saw a top center in return for Tyler Myers. Let’s hope it stays that way.