Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty were two late offseason additions by Ray Shero. The way the offense began to take form during training camp, it was clear one of the two would get an early crack as the top line’s right wing. As we all know, Stempniak seized the opportunity and has been an instrumental part of the team’s offense.
Tlusty on the other hand, hasn’t quite hit his stride. He’s had stints on the second, third, and fourth lines, dealt with nagging injuries, and has been relegated to the press box. This frustrating year of underachievement is easily reflected in his numbers. The 28-year old Czech has just two goals and four points in 29 contests this season, with his last point coming ten games ago.
His numbers are hard to justify when you consider how he averages almost 14 minutes of ice time each game, which is eighth amongst New Jersey’s forwards. He plays more than youngsters Stefan Matteau and Sergey Kalinin, who (as an overseas rookie) currently out-produces Tlusty. For an offensively challenged team like the Devils, this has to make you wonder what difference a player with more shooting prowess could make with the ice time Tlusty is getting.
It was noted in one of our articles earlier this season that Tlusty would benefit more from shooting the puck. He currently has the 13th-most shots on the team (37), and 11th-best shooting percentage (5.4%). Career-wise, Tlusty has shot at 12.6%, which would have given him the 7th-highest on the roster. Having said that, if he had a 12.6% shooting percentage off his 37 shots this year, he would have only had 4-5 goals, which still wouldn’t be enough not to question his role on this team. Even if you double the amount of shots he’s taken (74), which would give him the 5th-highest on the Devils, it would still equate to around 4 goals this season. This would just make Tlusty look worse, since he would be the only player with more than 70 shots that has fewer than nine goals. Regardless of what his career stats have been, Tlusty is snagged on some playing aspect of Coach Hynes’ system that’s preventing him from getting those timely shots.
Simply put, he hasn’t worked out as we all hoped.
It can be argued that his lackluster offense has a correlative impact on the team’s performance. The Devils are 14-13-2 with Tlusty in the lineup, and are 6-3-3 without him. The winning percentages in both scenarios are around .50, but the Devils grabbed 30 out of 58 possible points (51.7%) when Tlusty plays, and 15 out of 24 possible points (62.5%) in games he hasn’t. If you inflate these numbers over the course of the Devils’ first 41 games, the differences become even more apparent.
This isn’t to say that Tlusty is a bad player. Having said that, he’s certainly not part of the solution to making the Devils a better team. Outside of Cammalleri, Henrique, Stempniak, Palmieri, and (to a certain extent) Zajac, the Devils have an incomplete top-six. Hopes were high Tlusty would be one of the potential candidates to fulfill this vacancy, especially with the injured status of Patrik Elias.
While he’s been defaulted to the second line at different points this season, he hasn’t made much of those opportunities. At the 41-game mark (20-16-5), the Devils have lost 12 games by one goal, with seven of them coming in regulation. If the Devils had a forward that would have been more productive with Tlusty’s ice time, it would have had a profound impact on the Devils’ record and current position in the standings. It’s that aspect where a player like Tlusty, who was brought in to help in this regard, is proving to be a detrimental factor.
Despite the Devils’ place in the standings, they should still be considered a rebuilding team. I would hope Shero doesn’t resort to the trade market if he tries to directly replace Tlusty in the lineup. Having said that, nobody else on the Devils roster has proven a viable option to complete the Devils’ top-six. Cutting ties with Tlusty could present a chance for someone like Reid Boucher to reclaim a spot with the Devils. Someone like Paul Thompson could also be considered. The 27-year old wing is reputed for his shoot-first mentality, and gritty play, which adheres to the character mold the Devils are taking on.
The second half of the season is in many ways, a clean slate for players and personnel. Tlusty’s one-way deal will at least earn him a grace period going into the second half of the season. The best player you can compare Tlusty to going forward is Brian O’neill, who was waived 29 games into the season, after registering just two assists in 22 contests. A period of half the remaining season is a more than generous window of time for Tlusty to redefine his game moving forward. Nonetheless, I truly feel Tlusty would have hit his stride by now if he was compatible in Coach Hynes’ system.
Even though a grace period of 22 more games would end just days before the trade deadline, the Devils have nothing to gain or lose by cutting their losses sooner than later.