The Tambellini Enigma

What happened to Jeff Tambellini?

After starting the season by surpassing his own career highs with nine goals and 15 points in only his first 21 games, and averaging just under 12 minutes of ice time each night, he has come crashing back down to Earth, contributing just two assists in the following 23 games. In fact, apart from those two assists, he has been held off the score sheet throughout 2011.

It is painfully evident that he has lost the confidence of coach Alain Vigneault. In Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Stars. For example, he was held off the scoresheet in only 7:19  of ice time. To put that in perspective, fellow fourth-liner Victor Oreskovich managed 8:28 and no other forward saw less than 13 minutes of ice time.

Tambellini, unlike many of his teammates has not missed any time due to injury, and unless he is fighting a nagging injury that he’s not disclosing, he has simply lost his form. And he’ll have to find it again if he wants to be part of the Canucks playoff run, one way or the other.

As is seen year after year in the playoffs, each line on a winning team must contribute, and if a player isn’t scoring he must find a niche where he can contribute: faceoff king, grinding checker, penalty killer extraordinaire, agitator. At present, Tambellini has shown no great aptitude for any of those roles but must quickly find some way of getting back on track or re-inventing himself. Even if he could somehow be converted into a spare defenseman, that alone would make him more valuable to the Canucks than his present incarnation.

With that said, GM Mike Gillis might force this adaptation with a change of scenery. With players like Bill Sweatt, Sergei Shirokov, and Cody Hodgson having made good impressions during their call-ups, management may feel that one or all of them have passed Tambellini on the depth chart.

Would Tambellini’s father Steve, the Canucks’ former assistant GM and now GM of the Edmonton Oilers, be willing to add his own son as a reclamation project? It would amount to an interesting story, but the Oilers have a number of its own prospects at the forward position that they are trying to develop, and at age 26, Tambellini might actually be too old for that group.

With the recent rash of injuries and the constant juggling of the salary cap, one reason that Tambellini has stuck with the Canucks despite his slump may be his inexpensive $500,000 price tag. As a UFA next season, however, the Canucks’ management should be evaluating if they want him back with the organization next year, or if he may be worth a late-round draft pick as a rental to a playoff bound team.

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