Sometime today or maybe on the plane ride home from New Jersey, Buffalo Sabres General Manager
Regier, conservative by nature and often handcuffed by the tough financial decisions that accompany a fiscally challenged franchise, has done this before. He takes a nine-game look at a promising draft pick who has junior eligibility remaining. He assesses the plusses and minuses of the pick's play against NHL competition and then sends the kid back to juniors with a laundry list of things to work on and an encouraging word regarding where he stands in the organization and what his possibilities are for future employment.
This time it was different.
In nine games, culminating with Wednesday night's win at New Jersey, Myers has played to glowing reviews while the Sabres compiled a 7-1-1 record without a loss on the road (4-0-0). More importantly, the 19-year-old Myers, at 6-8 and well over 200 hundred pounds -- and growing -- did not look out of place. He scored two goals, including the game-winner in a shootout at Tampa Bay, and was credited with three assists. He is among the team leaders in plus-minus (+8). He got smoked on one occasion, but that's to be expected of a kid. Aside from having former Sabre
Myers ranks third on the rookie scoring list for defensemen behind New York's
The kids are just that good.
Myers, picked 12th overall in 2008, is just one of a growing number of teenagers who are finding regular spots and serious playing time with their NHL teams. In recent days, the Islanders made a similar (and not surprising) commitment to 2009 No. 1 overall selection
Myers, meanwhile, joins a reasonably long list of 2008 draftees who had time left in terms of junior competition, but went to the NHL to stay despite their tender years.
Like Myers, Del Zotto has been asked to stay around in no small part because he, too, is a leader in a variety of categories for the Rangers. Despite the obvious upside, however, the decision is not without risk and -- as is always the case in pro sports -- not without financial repercussions. The biggest issue is whether a player who shows early promise continues to develop.
Toronto kept the 18-year-old Schenn last season and he was one of their best defenseman, but he's struggling now. Having the Leafs start 0-7-1 may be retarding both his development and his confidence. GM
Before the 2004-05 lockout, it was a rarity to keep a teenager, even a first-overall selection, if he had junior eligibility remaining. But since the advent of the salary cap and floor, things have started to change. In 2005, the only players to remain with their respective teams were
In 2006, the Penguins kept
Exhibit A in that regard would be the Coyotes, whose struggles on and off the ice have prompted management to send even their most promising picks back to junior. Part of the reason is to not have their development slowed by playing for a team that loses far more than it wins. Another primary reason is to delay the start of their NHL careers so the team can keep the clock from starting on the time when they will come off their entry-level contracts and to push back the date when they will become eligible for free agency. That's a decision Regier had with Myers. The Sabres were, arguably, deep enough on defense to send him back to junior had he not performed as well as he did in the first nine games.
Regier acknowledges that decisions on young players depend in part on how well they project. "The real questions that revolve around young players, by the very nature of their youth, you have to accept a level of inconsistency in their play," he told reporters in Buffalo just days before making the final decision. "Part of the process here is we have to evaluate what that range is, and whether or not we can support the range and have him grow and have the team grow, have the team win.
"You also evaluate whether you think the player can continue to grow at the junior level or if that is less than an ideal situation."
Since Myers appears to have outgrown the constraints of junior hockey in both his size and learning curve, it was a relatively easy decision, but there was also the business side of the equation. In keeping him the Sabres set the clock in motion for the time when he will become restricted free agent, and that's when he'll be just 22. If the Sabres survive that, Myers will be eligible for unrestricted free agency shortly thereafter. Depending on how they manage their payroll, they may have enough room under the cap to accommodate him should he blossom into an elite player. It's a problem that's bearing down quickly on the Blackhawks, who have a number of their very young talents nearing raises that the team currently won't be able to fund.
The Ducks made that decision this week on the promising Sbisa, who was obtained from the Flyers as part of the deal for veteran defenseman
That didn't matter to the Ducks, who felt it was more important to get Sbisa into an environment where he plays and, hopefully, wins. Being with a junior team that provides an environment far more conducive to success and improvement is better than staying with a struggling team where the pressure to contribute is immense.
"Every situation is a little different," said one team official who asked for anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to this subject. "Sometimes a team will do it because the player isn't ready or even because the junior team has a chance at some real success and the player would benefit from playing in a certain environment like competing for the Memorial Cup (symbolic of hockey supremacy at the junior level), but most times it's a decision involving either need (the player is good enough and the team has a need), money (young players cost less) or timing (delaying the start of the pro clock countdown).
"Usually if the kid can play and is thought to be mentally tough enough to survive the setbacks that will undoubtedly occur, a team will keep him simply because he helps keep the team's costs down."
That wasn't an issue before the salary cap, but today it looms larger than the 6-8 Myers on skates.
There may be a more than one group interested in purchasing the Coyotes once the NHL pries it out of the clutches of a bankruptcy court. The
Ice Edge Holdings investor
It's a tad different in Tampa Bay where