When Tim Stapleton reported to the Thrashers squad last fall he knew he had a chance to prove himself. But he also knows he cannot afford to take his playing days in the NHL for granted.
After 25 games played, things weren’t going quite as he’d hoped. He had zero goals and only one assists…a secondary helper on a Nik Antropov goal during an overtime loss to the Rangers in January. Then, late last month, the Atlanta Thrashers placed Stapleton on waivers.
But the 5’-9”, 185 pound native of Illinois didn’t hang his head about the situation. Instead, after going unclaimed by the other 29 teams, he just decided to play his best and see what happened.
“I didn’t really blame anyone for that”, Stapleton told me recently regarding being waived. “I mean, it’s part of the business. If you had to look at my production, I was working hard but wasn’t really [producing].”
“It was kind of a situation where I just had to not worry about it”, he continued. “I was just kind of like, ‘OK, I’m going to play like I can play’ and that was the game I scored against Toronto.”
That goal tied the score at 2-2 late in the third period and the Thrashers went on to win 3-2 in overtime. Four games later, he’d double his goal production for the season with an OT winner in Carolina. Including those two tallies, he lit the lamp four times in a stretch of nine games. Prior to that time, he had all of three goals in 35 NHL games.
His scoring spurt helped the Thrashers to a record of 5-3-1 during that stretch. That’s the best string of games the team has experienced during the second half of this season, and for the time gave them another chance at a final postseason push.
Stapleton credits his run to more playing time and his teammates.
“I think I started playing a little bit more, and was kind of put in more of a scoring role, and just tried to take advantage of the opportunity”, he explained. “I was just put with some good players and was in the right place at the right time.”
One thing that’s always struck me about Stapleton is the fact that he works hard every shift. His lack of offensive numbers weren’t due to any lack of effort or hustle. And if there is one thing he clearly understands, it’s that his spot on the roster is anything short of a guarantee. So he plans to work hard to remain at this level.
“I do have another year [left on the current contract], and I’m going to treat it like I’m still trying to make the team”, Stapleton said. “The thing about this business is anyone can be replaced at any time, so it’s a situation where I’m going get in the best shape I can this summer, and come in [to training camp] and look at trying to make the team first, and just go from there.”
As for what he can do to help his cause in the mean time, that answer is very simple.
“Hopefully I can keep scoring”.