Everyone involved in the NHL possesses varying opinions on how to build a team capable of competing for and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup. If granted the opportunity, how would you construct an NHL franchise? Would you start in goal? Behind the bench? Down the middle? A horse on the blue line? Or would you opt for a unicorn-type winger? The catch? You can only choose one player.
The Ottawa Senators have two significant pieces: Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. Which one should the organization choose long-term? First, let’s take a closer look at the state of the Sens, and what each player means to the rebuilding club.
State of the Senators
Entering the 2019-20 season, the Senators were in a full rebuild with their focus on the future. Players like Ron Hainsey, Connor Brown, and Nikita Zaitsev were brought in to help mold their promising youngsters like Colin White, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Rudolfs Balcers, and Alex Formenton. Enter Tkachuk and Chabot. At 20 and 23 years of age respectively, they represent the top-tier of the Senators’ future: they’re young, immensely talented, and have had a good run of success early in their careers.
When franchises talk about cornerstone pieces, Tkachuk and Chabot fit that bill. We’ve seen them on the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. Or in the Chicago Blackhawks’ hey-day with Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane. On route to their 2011 Stanley Cup triumph, the Boston Bruins had Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara. Are the Sens starting to form their own core? If so, would you rather keep Tkachuk or Chabot?
The Case for Brady Tkachuk
Over the past two seasons, Tkachuk has emerged as one of the NHL’s uber-pests. As a rookie, he scored 22 goals in 71 games. This season, before the NHL campaign was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he tallied 21 goals, 44 points, and 106 penalty minutes. A fourth overall pick during the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Tkachuk’s game is eerie similar to Washington Capitals forward, Tom Wilson, Bruins superstar and “little ball of hate”, Brad Marchand, and Brady’s brother, Matthew, with the Calgary Flames. Each can score, play in a top-six role, and be an absolute menace on each and every shift.
Tkachuk is an excellent skater for a big man and loves to throw his body around. His ability to agitate, get “in your face” and mix it up with the opposition has put him in impressive NHL company. His approach and style of play are “unicorn-esque” as few can mimic or replicate his on-ice intensity. Tkachuk tips the scale at 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, and uses his large frame to good effect. On the forecheck, he loves to get to the “dirty areas”, and can play a complete 200-foot game. A unique talent with a vast skillset makes Tkachuk a star-in-the-making, and an important piece for the Sens moving forward.
The Case for Thomas Chabot
At the tender age of 23, Chabot has already emerged as a leader on the Senators and a front-runner to don the “C” in the next year or so. For a player of his stature (6-foot-2, 195 pounds), he gets around the ice extremely well. He’s quick on his feet, intelligent, and has shown that he can log big minutes at the NHL level. Chabot loves to jump into the play to create offense, but he also has the wherewithal in his own end to snuff out the danger. He’s an exciting player, who has quickly developed into one of the most talented defensemen in the NHL.
This season alone we’ve seen some masterful on-ice performances from the Sainte-Marie, Quebec native, who averages 26:00 of ice time per game – up 3:17 from a season ago. In a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in December, Chabot logged 37:50 TOI. That’s not a typo, folks. It was the second-highest single-game ice time total in NHL history, 15 seconds behind Dennis Wideman’s 38:05, set with the Flames in 2014. The Senators consider Chabot to be stalwart on the blue line who’s only going to get better.
Last summer, the Senators showed their respect and admiration for the diminutive blueliner by signing Chabot to a massive 8-year, $64 million contract extension. He was a stand out with the Saint John Ice Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and has made several appearances with Team Canada. At the 2017 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Toronto and Montreal, Chabot was named tournament MVP and was recognized as the top defenseman as Canada brought home a silver medal. He is a player who knows how to get the job done and is poised for an extremely bright future. The Sens have a future Norris Trophy caliber blue-liner right before their eyes.
In the midst of a rebuild, both players should be significant components of the Senators’ core and immediate future. The unique combination of size, skill, and physicality make Tkachuk an intriguing player that any NHL club would love to have. However, the winner of this “pick one” challenge goes to Chabot.
Chabot carries the edge simply because the Sens can build their franchise around him. He has the stature, quickness, and innate ability to turn a game on its head in all three zones. He is the prototypical, number-one “horse” on the blue line and the picture-perfect building block for the team moving forward. When the Senators contend for a title (hopefully sooner rather than later), Chabot’s brilliance will be front and center as they stare Lord Stanley in the face.