Jiri Tlusty’s Return Disappointing, But Not Unexpected

Today, the Winnipeg Jets appeared to commit highway robbery, acquiring scoring winger Jiri Tlusty from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a conditional 5th round pick in 2015 and a 3rd round pick in 2016. For a guy that was close to 25 goals only a few seasons ago, that price appeared to be extremely low, especially when the 3rd round pick isn’t even from this year’s draft.

Could Ron Francis have been taken advantage of as a first-year general manager? He doesn’t have a lot of trades under his belt, so his gauge on the market and inexperience on how to play the managerial game could have resulted in the Hurricanes selling an asset well-below market value. Let’s look at the facts.

Acquiring Tlusty

The Hurricanes acquired Tlusty back in the 2009-2010 season. After a regrettable pick of Philippe Paradis with the 27th pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, former general manager quickly worked to correct his mistake, trading Paradis to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Tlusty. The young Czech winger had fallen out of favor in Toronto, playing only two games that season with the Leafs.

The following year, Tlusty was an NHL regular for the Canes, though his place in the lineup was up in the air. Tlusty became a useful NHL player, simply because he could be (and was) plugged into any line at any time with little effort. His numbers, however, were still barely NHL-quality.

The following two years were Tlusty’s best as a Hurricane. In 2011-2012, he put up 17 goals and 36 points in 79 games, and in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, an astounding 23 goals and 38 points in 48 games. The latter came thanks to some near instance chemistry between Tlusty, Eric Staal, and Alexander Semin on Carolina’s top line.

Playing His Game

Tlusty was never a player that could generate his own offense. He worked best as the “invisible man”, the player that would find an open spot on the ice almost undetected and pot goals. Beside Eric Staal and Alex Semin, rarely anyone was paying attention to Tlusty, allowing him to shoot at almost 20% in 2012-2013. The above goal serves as a perfect example of this.

Unfortunately for Tlusty and the Canes, the line was never able to find that same lightning in a bottle in the years that followed. Since his 2012-2013 season, Tlusty has put up only 29 goals in 120 games, which is more in-line with his career expectancy. He is a good 2nd/3rd line tweener that can occasionally surprise even the most savvy of NHL veterans.

The Market Dictates

Canes fans were disappointed in the return for Tlusty, perhaps enamored by his play in the lockout-shortened season. But the reality is, that was the Tlusty of two years ago. Players change, value changes, and the market changes. A couple things play into the low return that Tlusty was traded for.

The first is today’s market isn’t high on players like Tlusty. Sean Bergenheim earned a 3rd round pick, Daniel Winnik earned a 2nd in 2016 (after the Leafs agreed to retain half his salary and take on Zach Sill as well). The interest in Tlusty simply wasn’t as high as Canes fans (and likely Ron Francis) would have hoped.

In addition, Tlusty’s play of late contributed to his low return. The winger put up 10 goals in the first two months of the season, but only 3 since then. When a goal-scoring winger only has 3 goals in the past 3 months, that’s going to affect his value. If the reverse were true, and he had started the season with 3 goals, but scored 10 since then, Tlusty’s value likely would have been much higher. Finally, Francis was between a rock and a hard place when it came to finding value on Tlusty. No doubt, he has the potential to be a perennial 20-goal scorer, so his value certainly should have been higher than the 3rd and 5th round pick that he returned. However, with the deadline rapidly approaching, Francis couldn’t afford to wait until Tlusty found that scoring touch again to raise his value. He was forced to sell low.

Looking at the Big Picture

Though Francis did not get the return that he, and Canes fans, would have liked for Jiri Tlusty, his second deal of the day more than made up for it. Francis set the price for coveted defenseman Andrej Sekera at a 1st round pick and a good prospect, and there were questions on whether he could get that return before the deadline pressure forced him to “take what he could get.”

That prospect would later be revealed to be Roland McKeown, one of Los Angeles’ highly rated defensive prospects. So, all in all, Francis turned two impeding UFAs into a 1st, a 3rd, a 5th (or 6th), and a highly touted prospect.

Today was a good day.