Short on offense last season, the Predators took to the free agent market in the summer in an attempt to not have a repeat this season. Without a ton of marquee names available, Stalberg was the man earmarked by the front office as a guy whose role with the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks, Stalberg’s previous team, was a bit of a metaphorical square peg in a round hole.
The Predators thought enough of Stalberg to give him a four-year, $12 million contract on July 5th, free agency’s first day. That contract was quite a raise for the former University of Vermont Catamount, as Stalberg was coming off of a two-year, $1.75 million contract with the Blackhawks.
After signing Stalberg, Nashville’s brass proclaimed him one of their top-six forwards going into this season. That had to be music to Stalberg’s ears, as he was buried on Chicago’s third and fourth lines for most of his time there.
Stalberg was also mentioned as someone who could help Nashville’s power play, which struggled last year as well. That may have been a bit of wishful thinking though, as Stalberg entered this season with a grand total of zero power-play goals in his NHL career.
Now a list of talented forwards who would have trouble cracking one of the power play units for the Blackhawks would be a long one, so there is no shame in not playing on the man-advantage in Chicago, but relying on someone who has never produced on the power play could have been a bit of a stretch.
Stalberg sustained a shoulder injury in a preseason game that cost him the remainder of camp and the start of the regular season. He has been back in the lineup for six games, but has been largely invisible so far. Instead of getting top-six minutes, Stalberg is averaging just 11:20 of ice time in those games. Rich Clune is the only forward who averages less ice time than Stalberg.
And on the power play, Stalberg is averaging just 25 seconds per game.
Not helping things is the fact that Eric Nystrom, one of Nashville’s other July 5th signees, is one goal off of the team lead. Sure the feisty Nystrom has just two goals, but he was one of the players brought in to collect the “entertainment tax” that Trotz was looking for, not to be one of the ones counted on for offense.
“Stalberg will have to get going here a little bit,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday. “We tried to move him up a little bit. He’s still learning us, we are still learning him, but the games are going by now, and he’s been in six now, so he’s got to start producing.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from the man who controls the ice time.
It sounds as though the leash on Stalberg will be short. Should he not produce soon, he may suffer the same fate as countryman Filip Forsberg suffered Tuesday night, when Trotz made the teenager a healthy scratch.
Trotz said Wednesday that Forsberg will be back in the lineup Thursday when the Winnipeg Jets come to town. With Forsberg returning and Mike Fisher nearing a return from his “foot fracture thing,” err lower-body injury, someone is going to have to have a seat in the press box.
It’s not to the point where the $12 million man will be the one in street clothes, but that result can’t be too far away.