Ryan Garbutt's reputation has taken a bit of a beating lately. The suspensions and penalties haven't helped. Based on his comments published at Pro Hockey Talk via Mike Heika he seems to be taking to heart the idea that he needs to change how he plays to some degree:
"When you're out, you realize how big a part of your life this is, and you want to make sure you do things right," Garbutt told The Dallas Morning News. "It's mental preparation, and I've been working on that away from the rink. It's keeping your emotions in check even when things aren't going your way. I think I have been better at that. I want to be sure whatever I do helps the team."
How much should Garbutt change though? He's a valuable player for the Dallas Stars as is by most measures.
One of those measures is offensive production. Garbutt is 5th amongst Stars forwards in points/60 at even strength. (For the time being we'll ignore where Jason Spezza is. That's enough for it's own separate post.)
Garbutt's possession numbers are down a bit, but the same could be said for the team as a whole. Ultimately he, Antoine Roussel and Cody Eakin are doing an alright job in the tough minutes they're shouldering. I'm skeptical that the drop has much to do with them at all given the departures on defense, but the drop is present.
Garbutt is also the Stars best penalty killing forward. Opposing powerplays generate 36 shots/60 against the Stars penalty kill with Garbutt on the ice. Second is Cody Eakin at 40. League-wide that would put Garbutt at only about 50th among forwards, but that's tops on the Stars nonetheless.
Garbutt brings a lot of good qualities to the table. Playing a physical game is a central aspect of what Garbutt does, but he has had the tendency to cross the line. In all of the NHL Garbutt is tied with Steve Ott (among others) for 5th in penalties taken/60 at even strength.
The discussion about Garbutt lately has turned to defining how he can change his game to make him a more valuable player. It's never a bad thing to try to find ways to improve, but the idea that he needs to improve to secure his place in the NHL is untrue and unfair. Garbutt does take more penalties than you would like to see, but he also draws as many as anyone in the NHL:
Would it be nice if Garbutt took less penalties? Absolutely. He doesn't NEED to draw less penalties to be a valuable player though. He provides the Stars with a quality depth scoring option who can kill penalties on a very affordable contract. Every team in the league wants players like Garbutt down the lineup. The Stars are lucky to have him, and this one wart, while unpleasant, is hardly enough to overshadow the value he brings.
If he is able to find a way to take fewer penalties while still drawing the same amount he will add some value to the Stars, but if he takes fewer and draws fewer what value has really been added? If Garbutt is able to evolve his game that will be great, but he has to be careful to not throw the baby out with the bath water.