On top of Brady Tkachuk’s ongoing contract negotiations creating a temporary hole on the Ottawa Senators’ top six, the club is also looking for answers for their second-line centre. Christian Dvorak was recently acquired by Montreal for a hefty price, and general manager Pierre Dorion might not be desperate enough to acquire a player of that caliber at this stage. Ottawa may have to look within their own depth chart for a solution.
It appears that the Senators will start Chris Tierney in between Tim Stützle and Connor Brown. He’s beginning his fourth year with the Senators, and he’s drawn quite a bit of ire over his tenure, I’m assuming for being the only piece from the Erik Karlsson trade who’s just sort of there, as opposed to being potentially or already really good. His first two seasons were pretty solid production-wise, with 85 points in 152 games, but this past season saw him take a step back with just 19 in 55.
He isn’t a proficient driver of play at either end of the ice, whether on 5-on-5 or special teams, and his shot is better than Erik Condra’s and nobody else’s. His main strength is his playmaking — among Senators forwards who took a regular shift in the lineup, Tierney finished second in primary assists per 60 minutes in each of the last two seasons, behind Tyler Ennis and Stützle, respectively (per NaturalStatTrick.com).
There’s something to be said for the Senators’ plan of putting their two best playmakers with the holder of the franchise’s longest goal-scoring streak, as a separate trio from the ideal top line of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson, but it’s hard to imagine Tierney’s overall game being a good fit in a top-six role. I’m willing to take a wait-and-see approach for a few games, however, since a new season is a fresh start for everybody.
Another argument towards playing him so high up the lineup is to try and boost his trade value and showcase him to other teams, though a much stronger argument can be made for Colin White. While he’s a better player than Tierney in most aspects, his contract will cost the team over 20 million dollars over the next four years, too much for a player who’s not part of the core. The team might want to move his deal before having to pay Josh Norris and others, which will be difficult as long as he’s a third-line centre.
A third option is to give a shot to a younger player. Stützle and Brown had their best results alongside Shane Pinto this past year. Fresh off of his sophomore season with the University of North Dakota, the 20-year-old centre put up 7 points in 12 NHL games to close out the season, while posting a 5-on-5 expected goals share of 65 percent with Stützle and Brown, while the pair posted a mere 20 percent without Pinto. Even taking into account his development curve, it’s a tall order for him to play on the second line of an NHL team, but he appears to be NHL-ready and while the sample size is small, it still warrants a longer look in that role.
Lastly, is it finally time for Logan Brown to make his move? I think whatever hope we have left for the former 11th-overall pick comes from past examples of prospects making a big leap after extended time in the minors. Nick Paul and Mike Hoffman both played four full seasons in the AHL, and went unclaimed on waivers on the way to becoming full-time NHL-ers, though, in Brown’s case, he’d likely be claimed by another team by way of his draft pedigree. The fact that the Senators held on to him instead of trading him, is a sign that they think he still has a shot. It’s certainly not likely, but Logan Brown is another potential option to consider to fill the second-line centre role.
Here’s hoping somebody can emerge to take that spot, or the Senators will most definitely be on the outside looking in once again, come the postseason.
Who do you prefer as the Senators’ second-line centre?