second line with Kesler and Raymond, forming a speedster trio that wreaked havoc on opposition defenses.
With 15 points (9 G, 6A) in his first 21 games with the Canucks, it looked like Gillis had found a cheap replacement for the departed Michael Grabner. Their similar attributes - speed and an accurate wristshot - made the two players seem eminently comparable: last season, Grabner had 11 points in 20 games with the big club, so it seemed, at the time, that Tambellini was even better, especially when Grabner was waived by the Florida Panthers out of training camp.
Tambellini capped off his first 21 games with a 6-game point-scoring streak in December, culminating in a contest on December 28th against the Philadelphia Flyers in which he took a game-high 9 shots, finished +2, and even won a faceoff for good measure. He managed all of this in just 13:18 of ice time.
Since that date, he has a grand total of 2 points in his last 40 games, both assists. He hasn't registered a point since February 2nd against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Last night, in a rout of the Minnesota Wild, Tambellini played only 13 shifts, for a grand total of 8:33 of ice time. While he previously appeared to be a source for secondary scoring, he's become a spare part that will likely see plenty of press-box time in the playoffs once Raffi Torres returns.
With his scoring touch disabled and his magic shooty spot cursed, Tambellini has been shuffled down to the fourth line when he's in the game at all. There, he's struggled to provide a contribution, managing 112 hits on the season, but rarely making much of an impact with his small frame. Meanwhile, the player that seemed so eminently comparable has exploded for the New York Islanders: Grabner has 33 goals this season and has launched himself into the Calder Trophy debate.
So what happened? How does a player go from being so effective to so defective?
To be perfectly honest, I'm not quite sure. Certainly, his ice-time has dropped, but he was able to score in limited minutes prior to his slump and has been given opportunities several times since. He has still been willing to get to the dirty areas of the ice and still forechecks with speed. He's shooting the puck less - he averaged 2.333 shots per game through his first 21 games and 1.625 shots per game during his slump - but much of this can be attributed to the decrease in his ice-time.
While I may not have the answer for why Tambellini has fallen into such a funk, I can admit that I should have seen it coming. In 2009-10 with the Islanders, Tambellini scored 10 points (7G, 3A) in his first 15 games. He managed 4 points, all assists, in his remaining 20 games. In 2008-09, Tambellini split up his slumps, starting the season with only 2 points in his first 24 games, before scoring 4 points in 8 games. He followed that up with 0 points in 13 games, then a hot streak of 5 points in 4 games, then rounded out the season with 4 points in his final 16 games.
Jeff Tambellini is the definition of a streaky player. He'll heat up for brief stretches where he will show flashes of why he was a first round pick in 2003 (taken just 4 picks after Ryan Kesler), but then will struggle mightily for long periods of time. This is arguably the worst slump of Tambellini's career and there doesn't seem to be any indication he'll be able to break out of it any time soon. That said, he's entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in his career, which can have a strange effect on some players.
With Raffi Torres suspended, Tambellini will likely get a chance to play in at least the first two games of the first round, albeit on the fourth line. With a strong playoff performance, he could potentially get re-signed in the off-season, but at this point it seems unlikely. At the age of 26, he's looking less and less like a young player with potential and more and more like another Jason Krog, who his point totals in the AHL and NHL are beginning to strongly resemble.