Just last season, Ryan Garbutt played a key role in helping launch the Dallas Stars to their first postseason appearance since 2008. Now, his days in victory green seem to be numbered.
Garbutt sat in the press box for three straight games and six of the past eight games. He also missed five games earlier this season after two suspensions. That is a far cry from being one of the key pieces of one of the most surprising and effective lines for the Stars last season.
A Positive Beginning
Garbutt, Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel formed one of the most tenacious and relentless depth lines in the NHL over the past two seasons. Their speed, physicality, skill and ability to get under opponents’ skin led to a heavy reliance on the trio. For a time, they were even used as the team’s second line. They consistently provided a dangerous offensive threat as well as a determined focus on defense. The line combined for 47 goals and 96 points last season, an impressive amount considering they were a third line forced into an elevated role. Their 47 goals made up about 20% of the team’s goals for the season.
The reason for his deteriorated role with the Stars is simple. Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff seem to have lost faith in him.
Garbutt was one of the first four Stars forwards out on the penalty kill, regardless of the situation. When he does make the lineup these days, he is found further down the PK pecking order. Two seasons ago, he tallied 10 points in 36 games. Last season, he registered career highs in goals (17), assists (17), points (32), penalty minutes (106), and shots (165). After a career season, Garbutt regressed to seven goals and 15 assists in 60 games this season, good for 13th on the team. Though production isn’t necessarily his strongest suit, that is a noteworthy drop.
The Stars face an uphill battle to try to get into the playoffs. Every game is a must win for any chance at making the postseason. Their current 9-2-0 run over the last 11 games shows the team doesn’t miss Garbutt’s presence all that much. Despite the importance of the games, Garbutt finds himself watching from the press box while youngsters like Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie are plugged into the lineup instead.
Playing with an Edge
The combination of mind-numbing penalties in the offensive zone, unnecessary post-whistle actions leading to penalties and the ever-present fear of a mindless suspension-worthy hit make him untrustworthy on the ice. A couple of times this season, Garbutt did something in a game that led to him watching all or most of the third period from the bench. It seems like every time Garbutt drives the net with the puck, I am expecting him to put more effort into taking out the goalie with an “accidentally on purpose” collision or high stick instead of trying to score.
Garbutt has always played with an edge since joining the Stars in 2011. He walked a fine line with his physicality and ability to agitate. It seems that as time moves on, he struggles to keep himself on the right side of the line. Even Roussel has his questionable penalties and post-whistle scrums, but more often than not, he corrects himself and gets back on the right side of the line.
For a player the Stars liked so much they offered a three-year, $5.4 million deal last year after only 102 career games, Garbutt’s role has taken a steep plunge. The Stars will do some retooling in the summer with young talents emerging, so it will be interesting to see if Garbutt will get a chance to earn his place back with the team or if we are watching his last games in victory green.