Senators Need More From Tierney

Chris Tierney looked like a nice addition for the Ottawa Senators in the Erik Karlsson trade a few years ago. The Senators were able to add some prospects and picks (one of which they used to pick Tim Stützle), but Tierney was the one player locked into an NHL role. But lately, they haven’t been getting enough point production from him.

Tierney of Past

In 2017-18, the season before the trade, Tierney played for the playoff-contending, yet disappointing, San Jose Sharks. After years of slight increases in his point totals, he enjoyed his most productive season, with 17 goals and 40 points. He looked secure in a third line, second power-play unit role, but he seemed primed for a bigger role and bigger point totals for years to follow due to his steady development. Additionally, when he ventured up in the Sharks lineup, playing with more skilled players, he seized his opportunities and didn’t look out of place.

Chris Tierney Ottawa Senators
Chris Tierney, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He then joined the Senators and had a great first season, putting up a career-high 48 points. He and Thomas Chabot were bright spots on a team in flux, eventually losing big pieces in Mark Stone and Matt Duchene. He was primed for another big season the following year and possibly the rest of his career, potentially becoming a regular 15 to 20 goal, 50 point player with great defensive instincts.

Three years later, he sits at six points through 18 games, a 27-point pace over 82 games. What are some of the reasons behind his decline, and is there any way the Senators can salvage his career?

Investigating Tierney’s Production Issues

After averaging over 17 minutes of ice-time in his first two seasons in Ottawa, Tierney is now down to 14:29 per game, even with the injury to Shane Pinto. This drop in ice time could be a sign of his lack of on-ice effectiveness or could indicate the coaching staff’s mistrust of him. Either way, it’s not good and likely a hindrance to his production. On the flip side, he never averaged more than 17 minutes of ice-time in San Jose, and he was able to produce a 17-goal season on the California coast.

His lack of production could also be attributed to the quality of his linemates. After all, he played for a stacked Sharks squad that boasted names like Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, and Patrick Marleau. Although this seems like a viable theory, his most common linemates in 2017-18 were Mikkel Boedker and Jannik Hansen, who aren’t exactly play-drivers but aren’t the worst either.

Mikkel Boedker Sharks
Mikkel Boedker, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This season, he’s been primarily playing with Tyler Ennis, with Zach Sanford and Alex Formenton rotating in. These three aren’t superstars either, but Ennis has been productive in his role, with nine points in one less game than Tierney. He simply needs to find a way to get on the scoresheet more often.

In my opinion, the most likely cause of his decline is his relationship with the Senators as a whole. His role on the team is uncertain, as is his role within the organization moving forward. After signing a two-year, $7 million “prove it” deal, he has been leapfrogged by up-and-comers Josh Norris and possibly Pinto. In addition, he’s not seeing much power-play time on the second unit. He might feel like the organization lacks confidence in him and doesn’t feel like they value him in their future plans.

Senators’ Options

If I were the Senators and valued Tierney, I would play him as the second-line centreman for the foreseeable future, or at least until Pinto returns from injury. If that doesn’t seem viable, I would try him out on the top power-play unit for a bit and sub out Connor Brown. This could also boost the struggling second unit, with a smart player like Brown as the main focal point. If there’s no room for him on the top power-play unit, I’d get him out there on the penalty kill; anything to show him that I trust him and want him to succeed.

The goal would be to simply put him in a position to succeed and let him work through his struggles. He has shown in years past that he can be productive when given opportunities. Let him bang (or punt) in a few goals in front to get his confidence back.

If the coaching staff doesn’t do something, they are sending the message that they don’t care about his value, development, and production. They say they don’t see him as part of their future, even though he could be an extremely valuable piece moving forward. He’s still only 27 years old, has a lot left to give, and brings an important defensive dimension to a Senators lineup that already has the skillful trio of Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot, and Tim Stützle. Maybe he just needs a kick in the butt, which a healthy scratch for a game or two might accomplish. Either way, this is not the time to give up on him.

There’s also the unlikely possibility that he doesn’t wake up from his production slumber. It’s possible that his near 50 point seasons were just a fluke and that he’s simply a fourth-line center on a playoff team. If that’s the case, he can kiss his $3.5 million yearly salary goodbye, as he will likely be in the $2 million or less range for the rest of his career.

Chris Tierney Ottawa Senators
Chris Tierney, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the rare possibility that his production decreases even more, he might not even be a viable NHLer. He went from a consistent 40 point scorer to this season’s six-point output so far. He might end up in the KHL or Europe if this continues. I don’t believe this will happen, but it’s a possibility.

Best Case Scenario

On that note, it’s in the Senators’ best interest to maximize his value this season. He becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer so that the Senators could dangle him as trade bait, or if he shows them what I believe he’s capable of, he could be their smart, defensively-sound, veteran third-line center in future Cup runs.

He has all the capabilities of filling that role, he’s a proven winner, winning the OHL Cup twice in Major Junior. He can play up and down the lineup whenever injuries occur. He can fill a Zach Hyman type role on the forecheck for skilled lines as well. 

But that’s all up to him and the Senators’ coaching staff over the next couple of months.

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