The Free Agent
The Jets’ season and Cinderella run to the playoffs is over and the brass is now hard at work trying to resign key parts of this year’s squad. Rumours are flying and critics are weighing in on who the Jets should keep and who they should pass on. At the top of the list are names like Michael Frolik and Drew Stafford, who provided steady play down the stretch. However, in the ever cap cautious NHL, the drop off from must signs to expendables is a quick and definite drop. A spike which ends with forward T.J Galiardi.
T.J Galiardi was acquired by the Winnipeg Jets on August 1st, 2014 when the Jets signed the speedy winger to a two-way contract worth $750,000. The signing added depth to a team which had parted ways with the likes of Devon Setoguchi, Olli Jokinen and James Wright. The former second round pick of the Colorado Avalanche was coming off a season with his hometown Calgary Flames, where he put up 17 points in 62 games. Suiting up with the Flames was the third time in his hockey career when Galiardi dressed for a Calgary based team- playing also for the Calgary Royals of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. Former NHL great and Flames’ goalie coach Clint Malarchuk remembers how excited T.J was to be a member of the Flames, “T.J is one of the nicest guys I’ve come into contact with and he was so proud to be back in Calgary playing for the Flames”. However, unlike his junior days when he was a top three forward, T.J found himself battling just to get in the line-up.
Before being traded to the Flames from San Jose for a fourth round draft pick, the 6’2 185 pound left winger cut his teeth in the Colorado Avalanche farm system. After putting up 27 points in 66 games with Lake Erie in 2008-2009, Galiardi was promoted to full time duty with the Avalanche notching 39 points with a plus 6 +/- rating in 70 games the following year. The future looked bright for the then 21 year old but he would never come close to repeating his rookie season numbers.
The decision to sign with Winnipeg was a chance to start fresh and get some footing within an organization, after failed attempts with the Avalanche, Sharks and Flames. “I think T.J looked at signing with Winnipeg as a chance to get back in the game, even though he didn’t want to leave Calgary”, says Malarchuk, “I would watch when he got healthy scratched and try to cheer him up, but you could tell he was upset”. A new beginning may have been the hope but it was just that- a hope. Galiardi would dress in 38 games with the Jets, recording 1 goal and a -8 +/- rating. On January 30th, 2015, T.J would clear waivers and be assigned to the St. John’s Ice Caps of the AHL, before being recalled that same day. Even though he never laced up the skates with the Ice Caps, his demotion rang loud and clear, with an all too familiar underlying message of being expendable.
There are many different reasons for why an NHL player’s career ends- injury, family obligations or simply old age. When it comes to Galiardi and his current situation in the NHL, there are no skeptics pointing to an injury or a birthday to explain the woes of the speedy left winger. It is the loss of something that can be tied to the decline of Galiardi’s play… his confidence. “When it comes to T.J’s game, I think his confidence has taken a huge hit over the past few years”, explains Malarchuk, “Confidence is everything”.
Nobody knows what the future holds for T.J Galiardi but the chances of him being back in Winnipeg are slim. He has dressed in 321 NHL regular season games to go along with another 20 in the playoffs, which could prove valuable to a team but most likely not in the NHL. During the lockout, Galiardi enjoyed some success with Bietigheim-Bissingen SC in Germany, putting up 6 points in 7 games before returning to San Jose. At the age of 27, he still has time to find his game but no surgery or change of scenery, as we have witnessed, will fix that. The path to a regular shift in the NHL may be within himself. “T.J is a great guy on and off the ice”, says Clint, “I know he will find his game but I don’t know when or where that will be”.