The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly keen on acquiring Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, and may even be willing to include promising young defenseman Cam Fowler in the exchange.
That seems like a steep price to pay, but there may be a bit more going on here than meets the eye. Let’s get into it.
One thing to keep in mind when discussing the Ducks is that this isn’t a club that generally spends to the upper limit of the salary cap. Commonly known as a “budget team” the Ducks regularly fly five million or so below the upper limit.
Not only are the Ducks and general manager Bob Murray extraordinarily cost conscious, but they’re also disciplined when it comes to “banking” cap space. More than your average NHL team the Ducks send players to Norfolk with extraordinary regularity (they’ve reassigned or recalled players 45 times this year alone).
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, then with CBC, discussed why these sorts of maneuvers were a priority for the Ducks last season ahead of the trade deadline.
So how does this relate to Tyler Myers and Cam Fowler? We’ll get to that, but first, here’s what Renaud Lavoie said of the situation during an appearance on WGR 550 sports talk radio on Friday, via NicholsonHockey.com:
“That’s interesting because yesterday I received a phone call early in the morning about Tyler Myers from somebody in the league and it was about the Ducks and it said that they’re talking a lot right now. I was surprised by the names that I was hearing. I think what the Sabres are looking at is another D in return. The name that was in was Cam Fowler, who’s a young D, obviously, with the Ducks. And another player could be involved if that trade comes up. So it’s going to be Tyler Myers for, let’s say, a defenseman like Cam Fowler and another player. Is it going to happen? I don’t know.
But after that, later in the afternoon, another contact of mine when we were talking about the Sabres, out of the blue said, ‘Renaud, there’s a lot of talk again concerning Tyler Myers and Tim Murray is really busy on the phone concerning Myers.’
And there was a third contact of mine later during the day who said exactly the same thing. So when you have three different persons from three different organizations who are telling me exactly the same thing, it must be true. Is it going to be a trade with the Ducks? I know the Ducks are really interested. I’m not the first one to say that. It was reported before. I know the Detroit Red Wings are in the mix for Tyler Myers…
Like I said, I’m convinced that Tim Murray right now, like a lot of GMs with teams that are not making the playoffs, I’m convinced they’re receiving for sure 10 calls a day from different GMs with different scenarios. So it’s one, I guess, of the many scenarios on the table for him.
That’s why I don’t want to tell your fans that are listening right now that it’s a done deal…
But it’s interesting to hear names like that. Before, yes we’ve heard the Ducks were interested. Maybe the Red Wings were interested. But we didn’t hear about any names that maybe the Sabres would get back. When you hear a guy Cam Fowler, it’s not a bad name. It’s not a bad name out there.
Fowler isn’t a bad name at all. The 23-year-old puck-moving defender has out-produced Myers, 25, at even-strength over the past three seasons. He’s also fared better by relative Corsi For percentage during that same time frame.
Signed at a reasonable clip through the 2018 season, Fowler is set to make $4 million in salary in each of the next three years on a straight forward contract that carries a $4 million annual average value.
Myers has the ‘you can’t teach size’ factor working in his favour, and the advantage of being a right-handed shooter. He also has a higher annual average value and is signed through a contract that carries a $5.5 million cap-hit through the 2019 season.
Now here’s the rub. Myers signed his seven-year, $38.5 million extension in the early, heady days of the Terry Pegula era in Buffalo, when the Sabres were throwing money around like a drunk recent lottery winner. His extension was also strangely front-loaded, in a way that would be illegal now under the current NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement.
So, for example, Myers was paid $12 million in actual salary for the lockout shortened 2013 campaign, and $6 million last year. This year he’s making $5 million in salary. So by season’s end Myers will have been paid nearly 60 percent of the salary that’s attached to his current contract, despite it having run for only three of its seven years.
Let’s look at this another way. After this season Fowler will be owed $12 million in actual salary over the remaining three-years that his contract runs – an average of $4 million per season. Myers, though his cap-hit will be $1.5 million higher than Fowler’s, will be owed $15 million over the remaining four-years that his deal runs ($3.75 million on average).
The savings on a per year basis are marginal, but become more significant when you factor in the opportunity cost of that additional season of control. With Fowler’s reputation and production, it’s not difficult to imagine him demanding Matt Niskanen money (or better) as an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
Beyond the balance sheet, there are a variety of on-ice reasons that make this type of deal sensible – or at least understandable – from Anaheim’s perspective. The Ducks have a tonne of young puck-moving defenders, both on the roster (Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen) and in the system (Shea Theodore, Marcus Petterson, Brandon Montour).
Myers is a rarer breed, even if his reputation has taken a hit in recent years as he’s struggled in a top-of-the-roster role with little help in Buffalo. Pair him with Lindholm or Francois Beauchemin in Orange County though, and you’re likely to see him perform differently than when he’s attached to an anchor like Josh Gorges, or babysitting an 18-year-old like Nikita Zadorov, on a team that’s historically overmatched.
The financial aspect can’t be ignored here though. If you’re a budget team like the Ducks, acquiring a player like Myers – whose cap-hit is larger than his actual salary – can provide real value in that, it allows you to get a bit closer to the upper limit of the salary cap without forcing you to actually pay the full freight of his deal.
Though the Myers, Fowler reports superficially seem like they’re out of left field, when you consider how the Ducks operate, it begins to make some sense that the club would be willing to consider paying a modest premium to gamble on a lanky former Calder Trophy winning defender like Myers.