Once again it's that time of year here on Defending Big D where we take a look at each player that suited up for 20 or more games this season (and finished the season with the organization) - and take a look back at their season. What was good about it, what wasn't so good, and the lasting impression they left us as we go into summer.
We come today in our series to one Mr. Ryan Garbutt- A figure as singularly emblematic as any of the Dallas Stars 2014-2015 season.
The Stars made a push last season. They made the playoffs. They forced the area to pay attention to them. They increased their ticket sales and standing among NHL marketing efforts. They entered the season with raised expectations.
Ryan Garbutt used the campaign to similar ends. He was awarded a prime role in the Stars' forward grouping with Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel. He was given second-line minutes. He was trusted on the penalty kill. Trusted to defend top-end talent.
While the Stars were selling more tickets he was signing a three-year contract extension that pays him an average of nearly two million dollars a season. With all of that? The same increased expectations the team experienced- Or the expectation of more of the same.
Like his team, he was unable to repeat his feat of the year prior. 17 goals and 15 assists shrank to just 8 tallies and 17 helpers this season. 10 fewer points, and a -19 year-over-year differential in plus minus (+10 to -9 this season).
No one's going to argue that the performance of the team overall didn't play a role in the regression of his measurable contributions. It obviously did, but Garbutt himself didn't do enough to maximize his opportunity to contribute.
He played just 67 games and didn't boast a single significant injury to explain it. He was suspended twice and suffered a lengthy stay in the press box in March because, to use Mike Heika's words, "the coach believes other players help the team win more than Ryan Garbutt does [right now]."
After missing two games with an upper-body injury in November he returned and was swiftly told to take a seat by the department of player safety after a run-in with Taylor Hall. Two goals in the three games that followed seemed to indicate that he had learned his lesson and was on track, but then the incident with Byfuglien had him right back in the press box.
31 games later he hadn't scored in about 70 days and he sat for six of the next seven while the Stars tried desperately to stay in the race.
Did the suspensions take a toll on the way he plays the game? They're certainly not helping in the area of "reputation" calls, or more often, the non calls- And drawing penalties has been one of his greatest assets in the past.
"He's got to stop," Jim Nill told the DMN in December following the slew-foot suspension. "He knows he has to change his game. The message to Ryan is he's too valuable. I know he plays hard, he plays on the edge, but some of the things, he doesn't need to do them. It's got to end. He's too valuable to the team, we need him on the ice."
In that same piece here Mike Heika features Garbutt's comments after each incident- Most of which make reference to the fact that he's going "keep playing his game."
Many would opine, however, that play "his game" is exactly what he did not do the rest of the way, resulting in greatly reduced hit and PIM quantities and, those same many feel, fewer positive contributions on the score sheet in the form of points or drawn penalties.
(1.5 penalties drawn per 60 minutes last season to just 1.1 this year, buoyed quite a bit by a single game against Montreal in which he drew four)
Now, being Ryan Garbutt is a pretty thankless job. 5-on-5 he played against harder competition (see the usage chart here) than anyone else on the team this year, and he had to do it with the worst average starting position (closer to his own net) on the team.
That makes it pretty hard to score goals, but it's also a feather in Garbutt's cap: The coaching staff wants him in a very specific role. They see value there. They want to trust him in a very tough spot, but he gave quite a bit of that trust back this season.
He doesn't have to score 17 goals again to live up to the expectation of his new contract, but he does have the unenviable task of figuring out how to dance on "the line" without crossing it. The question is whether or not the Stars believe that it's a line he can reliably walk.
Responsibly vote for Garbutt's grade below...
Highlight of Garbutt's season?