This is the first part of a series looking at the players Tim Murray has traded during the tank seasons of the Sabres.
Tim Murray pulled off the perfect tank trade last season. He acquired Evander Kane, the best player in the trade at the time, who was on the trading block after fallout in Winnipeg involving a track suit in the team showers. In the tank focused season, Murray lucked out that an injury kept Kane out the entire rest of the year.
The Sabres got Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian from Winnipeg and Jason Kasdorf for Tyler Myers, pending free agent Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first round pick. Many at the time thought the Sabres overpaid in Murray's first big addition.
Kane has been a great possession player this year, although the production hasn't always been there. He has eight goals and five assists and has hit more posts than any other Sabre. The recent accusations are disheartening, but on the ice he looks like an important piece going forward.
When the Jets made the move they were pushing for the playoffs. They did make it in, but were quickly swept by the Ducks. Winnipeg has taken a step back this year, and the Jets have only four more points than the Sabres.
Myers is producing at the point level a bit higher than his final seasons in Buffalo. He has 15 points (5+10) less than half-way through the season, projecting him around the 40-point range that he got to his sophomore season. Still, the defensive lapses that Sabres fans saw aren't eliminated despite playing alongside better defensemen than he had with the Sabres.
Stafford produced at a better rate once he was traded, totaling 19 points in 26 games. The Jets liked what they saw, signing Stafford to a two-year, $8 million deal in the off-season. He started out this season hot, but has begun to cool off. He has 12 goals and eight assists in 39 games.
Joel Armia has spent a majority of the season in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose. He's scored three goals and five assists in 18 games with the 9-17-4 Moose. His first stint with the Jets had him in the press box for weeks on end, but his recent call-up has been more productive.
Lemieux has missed much of the season due to suspension. He has 25 points in 18 games and was traded to Windsor earlier this year.
The pick became Jack Roslovic, a forward at Miami (OH). He's scored 18 points in 18 games this season and was ranked No. 12 in Arctic Ice Hockey's Top 25 Under 25.
1. How has Myers' play been overall? Do you notice defensive lapses?
On the whole, Myers has been alright. But he's also come with his fair share of frustration, a word I'm sure Sabres fans are well-acquainted with when discussing him. I say frustration because, as the great poet Marshall Bruce Mathers III once lyricized, "It's so insane cause when it's going good, it's going great".
When it's going good, Myers is a skating machine, pinching or carrying the puck in with tremendous mobility, using his size to create meaningful leverage and separation. We'll never confuse him for Scott Stevens, as he's still largely a gentle giant on the ice. But we don't need him to be a thunderous man of that particular ilk; goodness knows we have enough penalty problems as it is. That long stick does come in handy breaking up scoring chances, and we have an appreciation for what he can do with it offensively as well:
"But when it's bad it's awful, I feel so ashamed". There are times when he plays like he's 5'9" Jared Spurgeon, only with all of the size and none of the heart. He'll sometimes aimlessly glide about the ice in both the offensive and defensive zones, and you can't help but wonder if the daydream was a good one. In games where he's out of 'the zone', you see him outworked to pucks and easily lose body position, in part because he stops moving his feet. The ease with which he is sometimes stripped of the puck is maddening.
And yes, we are well-acquainted by this point with the ill-timed and/or halfhearted Tyler Myers pinch. There are few things more exasperating in this world than seeing a 6'8" giant of a man go soft and weak on the puck, and end up beaten by the opposing player's hustle more than anything else. I question his hockey sense and I question his game-to-game compete level. There are probably other ways of quantifying it, but somehow the old-school scathing language seems more appropriate.
Here's one thing I'll say: Paul Maurice trusts him. A lot. At 17:18 he soaks up the 3rd most even strength TOI per game, behind only Dustin Byfuglien and regular defensive partner Tobias Enstrom. That time is actually down from last season, when Myers led all Jets defencemen with 18:56 EV TOI/GP.
The pairing with Tobias Enstrom has been a good one, if only because Enstrom is perhaps the only Jets' LHD who can be trusted to cover for Myers' mistakes. They're also both big minute sponges, and since their skill sets compliment each other, it's a relatively easy pairing to simply trot out when you need someone to spell Byfuglien.
And that perhaps best personifies what I think Myers is right now: a 5v5 minute sponge with some special teams time to boot, whose game is strong when he keeps things simple and skates, but is still maddeningly inconsistent.
2. Do you see him as a top pair defenseman going forward, especially if Byfuglien decides to leave?
It will come as no surprise to those who read the minor tirade above, that my answer is "not in the slightest." At my most critical, I've referred to Myers as a #5 defenceman masquerading as a #4. That's probably a bit extreme (watching the Winnipeg Jets can leave one embittered sometimes), but in his current package it's hard to see more than a second pairing defenceman, with an emphasis on #4. In my opinion, it would take a qualitative leap in his development for him to become a legitimate top-pairing defenceman. If the Jets attempted to shoehorn it in a post-Buff era, it would be a horrendous case of square peg in a round hole.
3. Are Jets fans worried about Armia's development?
There has definitely been a fair amount of consternation over Armia, though I wouldn't read much if anything into his prolonged stay upstairs. We're talking about the same team which has banished Paul Postma to the press box for all but two games this season. Every coach has their idiosyncrasies, and believing Peluso added more to the team than Armia during that stretch was one of PoMo's.
Armia is a few games into his Winnipeg Jets career, but skating on the fourth line alongside Matt Halischuk and Andrew Copp buys him a temporary reprieve from judgment. Similarly, while you're right that his AHL production has been underwhelming, the Manitoba Moose in general have been tantamount to hot garbage so I'm inclined to let him off the hook even there.
With all that said, let's get back to the consternation. Initial impressions stemming from the AHL have been mixed at best, with the grapevine mostly describing a player who's soft, uninspiring, inconsistent and plays small despite his size. When friend of the blog and NHL correspondent Patrick Williams remarks upon the need for Armia to use his size and become more than a perimeter player, I'm inclined to say there's some truth to the naysaying.
To be completely honest, I'm not sure how high hopes have ever been for Armia. Certainly, the conversation surrounding him has been more negative in tone since he failed to make the team out of training camp. Against this backdrop, Armia's decent performance over his two NHL games with the Jets might be seen as a pleasant surprise. If this season goes to the dogs, it might be nice to see him attempt to prove his worth in the top-nine, or even top-six. While it doesn't necessarily have to be this season, we'll need to find out what we have in Armia eventually.
This might seem a bit odd, but I'm almost tempted to call Armia a poor man's Myers. What I mean by this is that in both players, you see the tools to be incredible (though perhaps somewhat less so with Armia). And in both cases, the puzzle just hasn't quite fit together; the talents have yet to coalesce, if they ever will. On many nights, they aren't even the sum of their parts.
But if nothing else, we'll always have our movie puns.
4. Are you happy with the investment in Stafford?
No, but that's more so because of what Drew Stafford represents: poor resource (see: money) allocation and perhaps, a complete misassessment of the 2015 free agent market. Given 2015's abysmal market for veteran free agent forwards, the $4.35 million AAV it costs for one Drew Stafford could have provided for at least three NHL caliber depth players. But I digress.
In and of himself, he's been good. Not great, but good. He's being paid to score goals and is currently on pace for 27, though dear lord can the man ever go cold. He thankfully hasn't been the possession black hole we feared going into 2015-16; playing within Winnipeg's system has done wonders. Skating alongside Alexander Burmistrov and Adam Lowry, Stafford was arguably the driving force behind Winnipeg's 3rd line to begin the season. Of late, with Nikolaj Ehlers having dried up like the State of California, Stafford has stepped in nicely on the 2nd line beside Mathieu Perreault and Mark Scheifele.
We'll always look at Stafford in light of Michael Frolik's departure and the contrast between his rather rich contract and such players as, oh I don't know, Lee Stempniak. But financials and other grievances aside, he's been a net positive for the team. He also provides stopgap veteran depth until some of the kids are hopefully ready down the road, which I'm thankful for. Without him, even more prospects might have been shoehorned onto the roster. And who knows, if Andrew Ladd isn't re-signed, Stafford might even have to earn his keep on the top-line next season.
5. Where does Armia rank in your system?
When we had our annual Top 25 Under 25 series, Armia received votes ranging between 4th and 16th amongst the contributing staff, with the end result being a 10th place finish. I suspect that if you were to take another vote this very second, he might drop one or two spots.
Depending on who you ask and which position you're prescribing to others, he could be anywhere between the organization's #2 - #5 RW prospect. He is without a doubt behind the aforementioned Nik Ehlers, and Armia's underwhelming returns to begin the AHL season might have caused Jack Roslovic to pip him at the post. From there he ends up rubbing shoulders against the likes of Scott Kosmachuk, and Chase De Leo if you consider the latter a right wing (which I personally do not).
Unless he suddenly endears himself to the Winnipeg braintrust and PoMo, Armia would make for an interesting trade chip. You know, if our General Manager actually believed in trades.