Takin a T/O with BT: Was Jiri Tlusty Worth a Few More Minutes To Toronto?

xx yySenior Writer IDecember 4, 2009

TORONTO - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jiri Tlusty #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during a pre-season  NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on September 22, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada .  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Brian Burke made me miss a bus today.

At 4:15 this afternoon, as I was scrambling for the door I decided to take one last look at TSN just to see if something interesting had crossed the wires.

While the potential for Marco Scutaro becoming the most recent Blue Jay to win a World Series (in the same division no less), Tiger Woods' apparent attempt to pay off his "mistress," or Michael Liambis' latest foray into the hockey world were all interesting story lines, one thing—as usual—made front page news.

The Toronto Maple Leafs.

As far as a reason went, it's become a pretty standard one in Leaf Land. Any headline these days either centres around potential player movement or whatever ailment has struck the crease forcing Joey MacDonald back into action.

Today was anything from a rumor. Far from it.

Today, as Leafs fans have seen so often before, a former-first round draft pick was traded.

And so ended Jiri Tlusty's days as a Toronto Maple Leaf.

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For some it was an unceremonious exit for the 13th overall pick from 2006. Said to have been blessed with all-world talent, Tlusty never showed it at the NHL level, netting a meager 20 points in 74 career games.

For others, it was giving up too soon on a young player yet again. A 21-year old who had 103 points in 105 career AHL games? Look no further than Brad Boyes. Or Tuukka Rask. Or the handful of draft picks that have been mixed in over the years.

Five minutes in, the outlook wasn't so good. The 'T' and 'K' keys from keyboards across LeafsNation were scattered everywhere from those who disagreed with the deal and those who disagreed with those who disagreed, slamming their foreheads off of the letter pads.

Five or so hours later, it may not be much better.

You can make the argument that Tlusty never looked comfortable with the Leafs at the NHL level. His first test run was by far his best in 2007/08 when he chipped in with ten goals and six assists in 58 games.

While the expectations rose after that year, the production didn't. Despite a 66 in 66 mark last year in the AHL, he was held pointless from the outset of the season in his first nine games in the NHL. A January call-up yielded a three-assist game, followed by another point.

Followed by another demotion.

This year wasn't much better either, with no points in just two games.

But for those that choose to berate Tlusty's performance, consider this: The 2007/08 Toronto Maple Leafs were still the "old boys" club. Literally. Mats Sundin played his last year with the Leafs, eating up (and deservedly so) all of the ice time up front.

Nik Antropov and Alex Ponikarovsky were still getting top-line time alongside the Captain, while Alex Steen, Darcy Tucker, and Kyle Wellwood were bouncing around beyond the opponents' blueline.

Then factor in Jason Blake, Matt Stajan, Boyd Devereaux, Chad Kilger, Dominic Moore, Mark Bell, John Pohl, Simon Gamache, Bates Battaglia, and a slew of others were fighting for time up front at one point or another, and there wasn't much to go around—or much for Tlusty to play with barring the more talented contributors getting split up.

The year after, the Leafs were expected to institute a youth movement—something that only works if you fully commit to it. If Tlusty were expected to be a part of it, then history should've been the biggest teacher in how to use him as a piece.

Throughout his up-and-down career, Tlusty has played more than 15 minutes in a game once since 2007/08—the season opener against Detroit last year. The reason why that's strange, is because you would have thought that 2007/08 offered him the least opportunity.

In games where Tlusty played 15+ minutes, he scored five goals, gathered one assist, and was an ugly minus-six (Although he was a minus-three in a single game against Philadelphia which contributes to that) in nine games.

Through the other 65 games of his career, he had five goals, nine assists, and he was a minus-eight.

Maybe he wasn't defensively responsible, and maybe he didn't always look committed to the cause, but one thing seems apparent: Big minutes allowed Tlusty to be the player we expected (and wanted) him to be. Sometimes you just have to take the good (goals and offensive creativity) with the bad (defensive lapses).

After today however, Carolina has that opportunity and if history's teachings are correct, the Hurricanes may be able to "salvage" the former-first rounder.

Remember how Tuomo Ruutu crashed in Chicago following a 44-point rookie year? The 'Canes brought him back to being relevant with 81 points in 119 games for them. They've also seen the biggest signs of life out of Sergei Samsonov since 2002, and Jussi Jokinen and Matt Cullen fall right in line with that trend.

For all intents and purposes, the Carolina Hurricanes are the Oakland Athletics of Hockey—they make players who fail elsewhere work for them.

So why can't Jiri Tlusty be the same?

With a little extra ice-time he can.

As it stands, we have no idea how the Jiri Tlusty-Philippe Paradis trade will work out in the end. While Paradis isn't burning up the QMJHL, it's of little consequence right now as some players make better pros than they do junior players.

But in a few years we'll know if Jiri Tlusty would've been worth just a few more minutes.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile , or email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives and over at Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game!