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Five Thoughts for a Friday: Five Reasons Why I Would Sign Chris Tierney

In defence of Cobra or, the Cobra defence

NHL: MAR 19 Senators at Canadiens Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stop. Wait. Stop! I can already hear the comments section in my head so let me make this absolutely clear: I know Ottawa has a lot of young forwards in the system and you’d rather watch them than Chris Tierney. I made a point of not calling this article “Five Reasons why the Ottawa Senators Should Sign Chris Tierney.” I don’t see Cobra in Ottawa’s five-year plan but as luck would have it, 31 other NHL teams will get a chance to tender a contract offer to Tierney this summer and it might make more sense than some of us think. I’ll explain!

Second thing, before I forget, “Another satire piece?!” No, I genuinely think Chris Tierney has some value in the NHL and again, I’ll explain! We tend to joke, a lot, as a fanbase about Tierney’s production, or lack thereof, but I also think that has a lot to do with our collective case of prospect brain. And rightfully so! After five years of rebuilding we want to watch players the Senators have developed internally, so pending UFAs won’t mean as much to us. In a recent article, I satirized Chris Tierney’s place in Sens mythology in stating, “He exists.” I think a lot of Sens fans feel the same indifference but in all fairness, Tierney has provided a lot of value for Ottawa and I think he’ll find success elsewhere in the NHL. So herein I offer my praise and gratitude for one of the most underappreciated Senators of this era.

As much as the NHL salary cap, in theory, protects budget teams like Ottawa from harsh economic realities, the cap has its drawbacks. Primarily, living in the cap era has given many of us a severe case of Cap Brain whereby we can’t talk about an NHL player’s production without adding “—but only if they sign him for less than x million per year!” Alas, we as a fanbase know what we want Ottawa’s top-six to look like over the next five years and it doesn’t include Chris Tierney. Tierney’s production hasn’t merited such a role and fans as a result deride his cap hit of 3.5M$. What can I say, the dude played his best hockey in his arbitration years. Good for him! So assuming the dollars and term look fair for the team and player, what does Tierney have to offer as a free agent? As promised, I have five reasons specifically why I would sign him.

Durability

I should note right off the bat that players can’t control injuries and illnesses and that we shouldn’t judge any player based on games missed. Now whether by pure luck or perhaps physical conditioning (I haven’t personally looked under the proverbial hood), you can damn near set your watch to Chris Tierney. According to capfriendly, Tierney’s recent stint on the injured reserve seems like the first of his career(!?). In his three seasons as a full-time NHLer for the Sharks, Tierney played 79, 80, and 82 games respectively. Before this season (his UFA season as fortune would have it) wherein he has played 61/73 games to date, Tierney played 55/56, 71/71, and 81/82 as a Senator so make that a string of six seasons missing just seven games. In the last three seasons, only Brady Tkachuk and Connor Brown have played more forward minutes in Ottawa (Tierney’s 50 assists also rank third among Sens forwards over the past three seasons).

Defence

I won't get into offensive production just yet because things get murkier there but in terms of defence, Tierney has provided ample value for Ottawa. In his last three seasons Tierney has posted five-on-five relative corsi-against per 60 rates of -1.09, -2.64, and -3.56 (you want negative numbers when it comes to relative rates against). And this season for the first time in his career as a Senator, Tierney has a five-on-five corsi-for percentage relative on the positive side of the ledger at +1.29 (his five-on-five expected goals-for percentage relative sits at +4.23 this season).

Discipline

With this one I kind of wonder if it has hurt Tierney's cause in Ottawa more than it has helped. DJ Smith seems to have a) his guys who can score and b)his guys who can scrap, and he doesn't seem to know what to do with anyone else (Hello, Victor Mete!). I personally find disciplined players more valuable but what do I know. By my count, for his career Tierney has drawn 53 more penalties than he has taken. His career high in penalties taken (10) came back in 2015-16 and PIM (26) in 2018-19. This season, for the first time in his career, Tierney has taken more penalties than he has drawn. Lady Byng shit.

Versatility

While he doesn’t bring a lot of value on the powerplay, Tierney has demonstrated for a long time that he can effectively kill penalties. In every season except 2020-21, Ottawa’s penalty kill has surrender less with Tierney on the ice. Going year by year, Tierney’s corsi-against per 60 relative on the penalty kill goes -3.34, -13.54, and -6.10 (expected goals against also better than peers at -0.73, -1.09, and -0.03). For those into old school numbers, Tierney won more than 50% of his faceoffs in his first three seasons in Ottawa. Speaking of faceoffs, in all four of his seasons in Ottawa, Tierney has taken more than half of his draws in the defensive zone (in his last three seasons he has also started more than half of his shifts in the defensive zone).

Production

Here I must admit I basically just put on my Chris Tierney apologist hat because ultimately his offensive production has left something to be desired the past couple of seasons and fans can justly criticize that. First and foremost, keep in mind Tierney went from a pretty not bad Sharks team to a pretty very bad Sens team. And in his last season in San Jose and his first season in Ottawa he got regular minutes on the powerplay (this season too with little to show for it). At his best, Tierney produces about 0.5 points per game (his first and last seasons in San Jose, his first two seasons in Ottawa). In his final season in San Jose when he scored 17 goals, he shot 14% (whereas in Ottawa that number has ranged from 7.76-11.32%). I would also bear in mind when considering Tierney’s offensive regression that his ice time has declined in the past two seasons under Smith (chicken or egg?). With this season in particular in mind, Tierney’s five-on-five points per 60 have dipped to the second lowest rate of his career (1.08) but his individual expected goals per 60 at five-on-five (0.58) marks his best rate as a Senator and his five-on-five shooting percentage (5.56) has only dipped lower once in his career to date. For what it’s worth (possibly a lot in free agency) among Senators forwards who’ve played at least 82 total games in the past three seasons, Tierney ranks third in assists per 60 at 1.04.

And as always, all numbers courtesy of naturalstattrick.

Bonus

He’s kinda cute.