VANCOUVER – Tyler Myers came to the Vancouver Canucks last summer for a bigger role closer to home, to be a leader and key component on a team being driven upwards by an emerging core of young players.
He came for change. But watching his teammates mature and seeing the Canucks start to build consistency and push towards a playoff spot for the first time in five years, Myers couldn’t help but be reminded this season of his old team.
“I think it’s natural to compare what you’ve been through in the past with what’s going on in your current situation,” the defenceman said from his off-season home in Kelowna during a video-conference on Wednesday. “I take a look at that year in Winnipeg where we almost made it to the Final — had a tough series against Vegas — [and] there’s a lot of similarities I can take from my experience with my first year here in Vancouver to that team. One of them being there was such a solid, dynamic core in Winnipeg.
“I think we have such a good, solid core group of guys [in Vancouver]. You add in a piece here and there to keep developing your team. I guess what I’m trying to say is we’re close. We’re close to that point of becoming a winning team. It’s just a matter of experience and getting that feeling of what it takes to win. And part of that is getting that experience in the playoffs.”
Myers left the Winnipeg Jets to sign a five-year, $30-million free-agent contract with the Canucks. It was only two years ago when he was part of a Winnipeg team that had rocketed up the National Hockey League standings, improving by 27 points in one season, before getting upset by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final.
Those 2017-18 Jets had impactful veterans like Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfluglien, supported by an emerging cast of young guns. Patrik Laine was 19, Kyle Connor 20, Nikolaj Ehlers 21, Josh Morrissey 22, and Mark Scheifele was already a star at 24.
Myers’ Canucks feature veterans J.T. Miller, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, and young stars Brock Boeser, 22, Elias Pettersson, 21, and Quinn Hughes, 20. Canucks captain Bo Horvat is 24.
“With all of our young guys, they’re such drivers of the team right now,” Myers, 30, said. “The development they showed this year, I think, was more than people were expecting. I think the mix of those young guys with a few more veterans we have in the room now, it came together really well.”
Right up until the NHL closed due to the novel coronavirus on March 12.
Now, the cautionary part (as far as the hockey goes): Two years after their 114-point season, the Jets projected to miss the playoff this season by a point, based on winning percentage. A team that was young enough to contend for championships for years has already seen its “window” peak and start closing.
It seems the Canucks’ greatest ally is time and that they are constructed better than most to survive this lost season — if that is what it turns out to be. But their most valuable player, goalie Jacob Markstrom, is eligible for unrestricted free agent, and after next season the Canucks will no longer have the benefit of Pettersson and Hughes playing on entry-level contracts. They will face difficult choices about roster priorities, as the Jets did.
“It’s creating such a different environment for every group, every team,” Myers said of the shutdown. “Everybody is going to get affected by it. A lot of it is just waiting – waiting to see what the cap will be, if we’re going to return at all. There’s just so many unknowns right now.
“The best approach is just trying to keep everyone as best we can. I really like where the team is heading. I’ve been a part of teams where you have too much turnover and it’s a little tough to get things going again. I like our group and I hope we’re able to keep all of it together.”
The Jets missed the playoffs the season before they nearly made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and last season regressed by 15 points before getting knocked out in the playoffs’ opening round.
The NHL halted with the Canucks — who were on pace for 93 points after finishing with 81 last year — out of the final playoff spot on a tie-breaker, but within the top eight on winning percentage.
“I think all of us in the room, we see ourselves as a playoff team,” Myers said. “It’s impossible to tell what could have happened. I really liked our strides that we made this year. I really hope we’re able to come back and try to end it off on a good note. . . (and) get back that feeling we had before it ended.
“With the possibility of us being able to finish the year, we just don’t want to take any steps backwards. We’re trying to talk to each other and figure out how to make sure we’re still ready to go if this thing comes back.”