When it became clear that the Canucks were pursuing Tyler Myers in free agency, it kicked off a spirited debate in the Canucks’ fanbase. The debate was partially fueled by rumours from national media members like Elliotte Friedman and Ren Lavoie, suggesting that Myers contract would come with a $7-8 million cap hit, but also fueled by the ongoing battle between old-school hockey men and analytics.
According to one side, Myers is a top-four defenceman, well worth paying $6 million per year. According to the other side, Myers is a bottom-pairing defenceman, whose five-year contract will quickly become an anchor.
“I didn’t have any awareness with that stuff,” said Myers with a laugh when asked if he was cognizant of the controversy surrounding his signing. That’s probably for the best. It’s certainly not Myers’ fault: he is who he is, and that’s an NHL defenceman, doing his best to help his team win. He doesn’t deserve any vitriol over working with his agent to get the best possible contract for him and his family.
“I would say if this was 10 years ago, when I came into the league, I wouldn't be ready for it,” said Myers. “But I feel I've grown up a lot. I've been around long enough now that it doesn't faze me at all.”
Benning, on the other hand, was definitely aware of the backlash, but didn’t let it affect his decision making.
“I have to do the things that I feel are the right things to do to make our team better and keep moving forward,” said Benning. “I've watched Tyler since Junior, I followed his career when he was in Buffalo and in Winnipeg, and I just felt like it's a great fit for our group going forward because he can play today's style game because of his skating and he's six foot eight.
“We've seen in the playoffs, St. Louis won the Cup with some big defensemen that can skate and move the puck and I think Tyler's a piece to the puzzle for us going forward.”
If public opinion didn’t affect Benning’s decision on Myers, did analytics? After all, some of the numbers when it comes to Myers aren’t particularly pretty.
Tyler Myers (5x6m with Vancouver) is very defensively weak, both at 5v5 and at 4v5, doesn't help a power-play to speak of and has a rough penalty differential. He is, however, very tall. pic.twitter.com/DlyVqN0Tw1— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 1, 2019
“We have a strong analytics department and we have guys that do all that for us and we listen to them,” said Benning.
“But with Tyler, it's more than the analytics,” he added. “It's what he brings to our overall group with his size, his skating, his ability to jump up into play. We just felt like he's just hitting his stride here where, given more opportunity, more ice time…”
It’s hard to avoid the sense that the Canucks’ analytics department might have presented the case against signing Myers, but Benning still felt that he was the right player to add to the Canucks’ lineup. The hope appears to be that Myers will find a better fit in Vancouver than he did in Winnipeg, with Benning specifically noting that the Canucks weren’t getting enough shots from the point, which is a strength of Myers’ game.
Signing Jordie Benn, on the other hand, appears to be an instance where Benning agreed with his analytics department.
“Jordie Benn is an analytics darling,” said Benning. “If you look at his numbers and what he accomplished this year five-on-five… We like his versatility, can play on either side. Whether he's playing with Quinn [Hughes] or he's playing with [Troy Stecher]. He's a good penalty killer. So, I think analytics played a big part.”
Calling Benn an “analytics darling” might be a bit strong, but the numbers paint a picture of a decent defensive defenceman, who likely belongs on a third pairing, but is capable of playing further up the lineup if need be.
Jordie Benn (2x2m, Vancouver) is a defensive second-pair guy, nice bit of work. pic.twitter.com/yuC21pemj1— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 1, 2019
"Going into free agency, our goal was to improve our defense and I feel real strongly that we were able to do that," said Benning.
Apart from a few depth signings, that was it for the Canucks on the first day of free agency. While they were looking to add a top-six forward, such as Gustav Nyquist, the prices became untenable thanks to the Canucks’ current cap crunch, exacerbated by Roberto Luongo’s cap recapture penalty kicking in.
“It was a kick in the shins,” said Benning bluntly. “I'll be perfectly honest with you, we knew it could come, it happened, and it kind of stopped us from maybe adding one more piece to our team this year.”
While the cap recapture penalty certainly plays a part in the Canucks’ current cap situation, it’s one that could have been avoided by eschewing expensive contracts to players filling out the Canucks’ bottom-six. With Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, and Jay Beagle all eating up over $13 million in cap space, it’s hard not to think this cap conundrum is of the Canucks’ own making.
Myers, however, has a simple solution to silence any criticism and negativity: just win, baby.
“The thing that solves any negativity is winning,” he said. “And that's the ultimate goal coming into the group, is it's being a puzzle piece to help this team win.
“Everybody's happy when we're winning.”