Today, the big news from the New Jersey Devils is that they signed Jiri Tlusty to a one-year, one-way contract worth $800,000, as confirmed by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. The 27-year old forward was available all summer. It got to the point where he received offers for try-outs from multiple teams, including the Devils. However, he rejected them as he wanted an actual contract as reported on Monday by Gulitti. Ray Shero got the message and gave him what he wanted.
This move can immediately be called shrewd if only for the contract alone. Tlusty's last contract was a one-year deal worth $2.95 million according to General Fanager. While Tlusty didn't light up the scoresheet, he did average over seventeen minutes per game with Carolina according to NHL.com. Plus, as Bob Wage noted after he was traded in February at Canes Country, Tlusty did play quite a bit on the power play and got a regular shift on their very effective penalty kill. However, the trade did not go well for his usage at all. Tlusty's twenty games with Winnipeg saw his average ice time cut down to just over twelve per game. It looks like Tlusty was a top-six forward with a lesser team, not so with a better, already-established team. Still, he wasn't a scrub, so getting a 27-year old that might be useful for over $2 million less than he made last year is always going to be seen as a good deal.
He certainly can be useful. While Tlusty's never put up more than 40 points in a season, he is joining a team that had only had two players crack 40 points last season. According to War On Ice, he's put up at least 21 even strength points in his last four seasons and he finished above 50% Corsi For in his last two seasons. However, Tlusty was never a significant play driver, he received more favorable zone starts given his placement on Carolina's top lines - as well as some real stiff competition and great teammates (see: Staal). It appears to me his CF% rose as his teammates did; just look at the values of the Canes from 2013-14 to 2014-15 at War on Ice. They're not bad but as the team was far better in possession, Tlusty's boat rose with the tide. While he wasn't a drain on possession, I don't think he should be expected to help all that much to make it good. On the plus side, some of his rates of production in prior seasons are encouraging. Check out Dominic Galamini's HERO chart for Tlusty for the last three years:
That's not bad at all. Knowing he's got a great goal-per-60 rate, I wish he'd shoot more than he would. A career-high of 136 shots would explain why his gross production isn't as sweet looking as his rate of production. Perhaps that's a function of playing with a Staal so much with the Canes. He's probably the primary shooter on his units. And for less than a million for a year, there can be little complaint.
My original thought on Tlusty had to do with fit. While he's listed as a center by the NHL, he mostly played left wing in recent seasons for Carolina. The Devils' holes at forward are on the right, not the left. So until I thought about it, I wasn't sure where he'd go. After some thought, it isn't hard to envision Tlusty on either top line. (Lesson learned: thinking about it is a good idea) Especially when you consider Patrik Elias. While it remains to be seen whether John Hynes uses Elias or Adam Henrique as a center, Elias has been declining as a player. It became noticeable last season. As Elias' play fades, his ice time and usage should decrease. That alone would open a spot for someone to take a center or left wing position. Tlusty can be that player.
While he may not be a particularly exceptional top-six forward, consider the Devils as they are this season. They just need someone to handle the spot, not necessarily excel at it. They need someone to help make the offense more tolerable, not necessarily to a point where it'll make the team are a contender. They need someone short-term as the organization figures out what they want re-build towards. With Tlusty, they have that with options. The Devils could end up wanting to sign him again should he do well and he likes and supports the team's direction. They can easily move him during the season if it's not working out, but he displays something other teams want. They can cut him loose in the offseason. It is preferable to have those options. It's even better when it's with a 27-year old forward who was one of the more appealing free agents in a weak market. Perhaps one day we'll find out why he wasn't signed sooner. But it doesn't matter for now he's a Devil.
At the end of the day, this was a very shrewd move by Shero and his staff. After rebuffing a try-out, they decided to give him a commitment and got a cheap, short one. They picked up someone young who can help out at forward to fill in a spot for very little money and term. Again, the contract alone makes is a good deal. It's a couple hundred grand above the league minimum for a one-year deal. The quality Tlusty may provide only solidifies the decision as being a good one to make.
What do you think? Are you pleased with the Devils' signing of Jiri Tlusty? Are you more pleased with the contract or that they picked him up? What do you expect from Tlusty? Where would you play him if you were the coach? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Tlusty in the comments. Thank you for reading.