Alex Chiasson hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the Ottawa Senators’ faithful. For proof just look at some of the tweets regarding his arbitration hearing.
Alex Chiasson still can't figure out why he's getting booed every time he touches the puck.
— Bonk's Müllet (@BonksMullet) January 30, 2015
So Chiasson wants $2.4M … What on earth did you do last season to deserve that kind of money Alex?
— SensBench (@SensBench) July 21, 2015
It seems that the biggest gripe fans have with Chiasson is that he isn’t Jason Spezza. Along with Nick Paul and Alex Guptill and a 2015 2nd round pick, Chiasson was part of the return package Ottawa got from Dallas for Jason Spezza in July of 2014. However, after only putting up 29 points this past season for Ottawa (six less than the 35 he scored in an impressive rookie season) fans were less than pleased. Combined with Nick Paul’s rising star, many have come to view Chiasson as a piece thrown in to the Spezza deal to make numbers work, rather than a valuable asset who has been the victim of misplaced expectations. So asking for $2.4 million a year in arbitration seemed like one more example of why fans should pile on the 24-year-old winger.
Granted, $2.4 million per year is possibly more than Chiasson is worth, but his agent’s job is to get more money for his client. Of course he is going to ask for greater than he is expecting to get. That is why Bradon Holtby’s agent argued for $8 million a year at arbitration. Similarly, while agents want to get the best deal for their clients, teams want to keep their payroll as low as possible, hence Ottawa countering with $1 million a year. So far, so normal.
What is surprising is that both parties didn’t settle before the arbitrator’s ruling was publicly announced. Generally teams and players like to avoid the nastiness that is an arbitration hearing and even if they can’t settle on terms before the hearing date, will often sign a deal before hearing the verdict (P.K Subban’s contract negotiation last summer is the best example). However, talks between Chiasson’s camp and the Senators’ seemed to break down relatively early and so the hearing went ahead. Ultimately, Chiasson received a $1.2 million deal for next year, which is a great deal for Ottawa and surprisingly low for the player in question.
Defending Alex Chiasson
So why does Chiasson deserve more money? First off, it is important to clarify what type of player he is. Chiasson is not a top six sniper. Yes, he scored 15 points in his 16 NHL games, but over 162 games he has scored at a 0.41 points per game rate, which averages out to 35 points per year. While he may well improve his points totals slightly, given that his shooting percentage last year was 2% lower than in his rookie year, at 24 years of age, Chiasson is already entering his prime scoring years a forward. Ottawa fans shouldn’t expect a dramatic uptick in scoring from number 90 but a repeat of his rookie season performance is entirely reasonable.
Rather than a scoring forward, Chiasson is a solid third liner whom Ottawa’s coaching staff employed as a fourth line forward. In understanding where a player should fit on a team’s depth chart, Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic (HERO) Charts are exceptionally useful.
As we can see from the HERO Chart, Chiasson produces points at the pace of a productive top nine forward. However, Ottawa’s coaching staff has used him like a fourth line player who also plays on the power play. Yet his skill set (other than being a big body presence in front of the net) is not suited to playing with the man advantage, as demonstrated by his six points last year, despite averaging almost 2 minutes of power play ice-time per game. Instead, what the HERO chart reveals is that Chiasson is excellent at suppressing opposition shot attempts. While not very good at boosting his linemate’s offensive production, he is exceptionally capable at making sure that his line keeps the puck away from their net. For a team that gives up far to many shots on a nightly basis, Chiasson’s skill set is particularly important for Ottawa.
Furthermore, Chiasson has struggled with sub-par linemates for most of the season. Despite enjoying stints playing with Mika Zibanejad and Kyle Turris, for most of the year he played with some combination of David Legwand, Zack Smith and Chris Neil. However, as Chiasson’s 0.9 Relative Shot Attempts % (SATRel%) shows, he positively influenced Ottawa’s puck possession, unlike his regular linemates, all of whom had a negative SATrel%. With Condra gone, a move up to Ottawa’s third line would certainly help improve his production.
Important Role Player
Paying Alex Chiasson $1.2 million for the next year is a good deal for Ottawa. Given that Vancouver recently extended Derek Dorsett, who is statistically a much weaker player, for four years with a cap hit of $2.65 million a year, Bryan Murray should be very grateful to the arbitrator in this case. Especially with the loss of Erik Condra, it is exceptionally important to have defensively responsible players who can contribute secondary scoring. Chiasson does this for half of the salary of most other players with his skill set.
Chiasson is never going to be Jason Spezza or ever produce points at nearly the same pace as Spezza ever did. However, he plays an important role on the Senators at a reasonable price, which is all Ottawa can ask for. If Chiasson’s shooting percentage returns to the 8% it was during his rookie year, a 35 point season is entirely reasonable. When combined with the further growth of J.G Pageau and Curtis Lazar, Ottawa will have plenty of secondary offensive options. It isn’t as flashy as a point per game center but you also need depth to succeed in the NHL and Chiasson provides it for Ottawa’s bottom six.
I am a Canadian historian studying at UBC and currently living in Ottawa ON. who grew up watching and playing hockey. I write about the Ottawa Senators, past and present, for The Hockey Writers. I think fancy stats are great. Also a huge soccer and Rugby fan.