Going Up, Going Down
Viktor Stalberg needed a kick in the butt. Or so it looked.
So he's back down in the minors, and Jiri Tlusty is up. Again. One more time.
There's three possible reasons why Stalberg hasn't been nearly as effective in the regular season as he was in the pre-season.
One, exhibition hockey isn't anywhere close to regular season hockey, and Stalberg isn't good enough to be an NHL regular, at least not yet.
Two, he got self-satisfied and figured all the hard work was done once he'd earned an NHL roster spot.
Or three, getting rocked by Ottawa's Anton Volchenkov in the third game of the season and suffering a concussion has left the young Swede unable to perform at the same level he showed in September.
My guess is No. 2, but all three are plausible.
Assuming Stalberg isn't still dinged, this is in general a very good way in which to deal with young players who are dealing with the inconsistencies that come with youth. It probably would have helped Nikolai Kulemin last year. It might still help Luke Schenn this year.
But the Leafs have to somehow get rid of the perception that having youngsters go up and down between the NHL and AHL is somehow demeaning to those players, or punishment.
It's called player development. Look at how well Darren Helm played for the Red Wings last year in the playoffs after spending most of the year in the minors. Moreover, you want your kids to be hungry to stay in the NHL, not complacent.
Which brings us to Tlusty. Uppermost in the minds of Leaf management is trying to understand why Tlusty is so effective in the AHL - six goals in eight games this season - yet a shadow of that player against NHL competition.
The belief here is that he might not be a good enough skater, and therefore simply unable to get to the places he needs to get to in order to be an effective offensive player.
The Leafs front office and coaching staff, however, don't believe that. They seem to think Tlusty is good enough, but for some reason gets freaked out by the bright lights of the ACC. The concern internally is that if they can't get to the root of this, a very talented player will end up in Carolina or Phoenix or L.A. and flourish there, away from the media and fan pressures of Toronto.
They're hoping the Lee Stempniak treatment will work on Tlusty. Basically, with Stempniak, the club has showered praise upon him for his work ethic and effort and conditioning and repeatedly told the veteran winger they believe that he can get back to the level when he was a consistent scorer in the NHL.
Even when the points weren't coming early, the message was the same. Now, the points are starting to come and Stempniak, for the most part, has been the club's best forward.
So that's the plan with Tlusty. Make him feel the organization believes in him and hope that rids him of the yips.