The Ottawa Senators have started their 2021-22 season with four of a possible six points. They hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs last Thursday night at the Canadian Tire Centre in front of fans for the first time in nearly two years and were able to win the season opener. In fact, Thursday, Oct. 14, is probably a day most Senators fans will remember for a long time. Not only did they secure the two points at home for the fans, but they also signed Brady Tkachuk earlier that day.
It was a monumental step for the Senators having locked up one of their star players long-term, something this franchise was striving for. With games against the San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers this week and Tkachuk back in the lineup, it’s time to see what this team is really made of. There are still 79 games to be played, but they’re off to a great start.
Item One: Brady Tkachuk Signs Seven-Year, $57.5 Million Contract
Left until literally the last possible moment before the 2021-22 regular season officially began, Tkachuk signed a seven-year, $57.5 million contract to stay with the Ottawa Senators. The deal would see him in the nation’s capital until 2027-28 with a no-movement clause (NMC) that begins in 2025-26. The contract pays Tkachuk at an average annual value (AAV) of $8.214 million with $0 in signing bonuses over the entire term. The official breakdown goes as follows: $4 million in 2021-22, $6.5 million in 2022-23, $10.5 million from 2023-24 to 2025-26, $8.5 million in 2026-27 and $7 million in 2027-28.
The Sens have had a long-standing history of not being able or willing to sign star players to long-term deals. There are exceptions, but most would place blame on ownership for not holding up their end of the deal. In recent history, we saw players like Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone leave the organization in different ways for different reasons, but they had one thing in common: lack of faith in the Senators building a winning team going forward. Ultimately, this is what kept Tkachuk from signing as early as possible.
Now that he’s locked in, you have to imagine that he was promised that the Sens would do whatever they could to become consistent playoffs and Stanley Cup contenders. Whether that’s signing core players long-term, making trades or signing free agents, it’s clear that while negotiations were taking place, this was at the forefront of Tkachuk’s mind. As for his dollar amount or market value, the reaction was split down the middle.
You can make the argument that $8.214 million for a player whose career-high in points at 45 is a complete overpayment. However, this isn’t all about points. Tkachuk is the heart and soul of this team, and frankly, a player of his ability to draw penalties, play tough, fight and score is a complete rarity in today’s NHL. There’s simply no dollar value for a player like Tkachuk, and he’s worth however much the team values him. He skated on his usual line at practice with Josh Norris and Drake Batherson ahead of Thursday’s game against the Sharks.
Item Two: Chris Tierney Is off to a Hot Start
If you took a poll before the season began and asked who would be the Sens’ leading scorer after three games, no one would have Chris Tierney at the top of their list. However, that’s exactly who is there. In those three games, Tierney has three goals on just four shots.
They haven’t been the prettiest of goals, but that doesn’t matter. If this helps Tierney build confidence again, Sens fans should be ecstatic. Currently slotted in the No. 3 centre spot, he’s looked like the player we saw earlier in his career as a San Jose Shark. As it turns out, there might be a reason for this. According to TSN’s Shawn Simpson, Tierney had suffered a back injury before last season. Injuries aside, Tierney is just happy the team is off to a great start.
“It’s a nice way to start for sure,” Tierney said. “It’s even nicer when you win the first two out of three. I’m trying to do whatever I can do to help the team win, and I got a couple of good bounces, but they say if you go to the net, you’re going to get bounces.” Two of Tierney’s goals came on the power play Sunday against the Dallas Stars. Special teams were one of the areas that head coach D.J. Smith wanted to improve in this season, and Tierney backed up that claim. “We’ve really honed in our special teams to start the year. We’re doing extra reps and extra video, and it’s something we want to key in on and have our power play get off to a good start, so it’s nice to be able to get off to a hot start.”
Tierney has been at the forefront of trade speculation for almost two seasons now. However, if the Sens maintain a strong position in the Atlantic Division and Tierney plays well consistently, those talks might get quiet. But, with this being the final year on his contract, the Sens should be inclined to move him when he’s delivering maximum value.
Item Three: Senators’ Goaltending Carousel
It’s only been three games, but the Senators are already finding themselves juggling when it comes to goaltenders. Last season, they had a total of five different goalies play in the net at one point. When Matt Murray returns to the lineup on Thursday against San Jose, they will have had three goalies already dressed just one week into the season. Murray had missed the last bit of training camp and the start of the season due to an illness.
It remains to be seen if the Senators will go to Murray on Thursday, though. After Anton Forsberg stole the show during the season opener against Toronto and backed it up with another solid performance two days later despite the loss, is going to Murray the right choice? He is their No. 1, but after Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson’s displays over three games with a combined .937 save percentage (SV%), the right decision might be to hold Murray off for a bit.
Murray needs a bounce-back season, so unless he’s absolutely ready to play, Forsberg or Gustavsson can man the crease for a couple more games. “We’ve been very happy with our goaltending all through training camp, and all three guys have been exceptional,” said general manager Pierre Dorion. “Having a healthy Matt Murray, with the way he played last year coming back from injury, will be something very key and important for the Ottawa Senators to have success.” (from ‘SNAPSHOTS: Senators GM is always looking for help’ Ottawa Sun, 10/18/21). It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Gustavsson becomes the Sens’ next No. 1 goalie. But Murray is here right now, and no matter who’s in net, the team’s success will rely heavily on the goaltending.
What’s Next for the Senators?
Fans will be eagerly awaiting for Tkachuk to step on the ice Thursday for his first game. The rumours are in full effect as well, stating that the Sens could announce his captaincy in front of fans at the Canadian Tire Centre that night. Wouldn’t that be something? The Sens giving out the ‘C’ to Tkachuk while former captain Erik Karlsson watches from the other bench.
This is all speculation, of course, as the organization had said earlier last week they would hold off on naming a captain. That was, however, before Tkachuk signed. During the offseason, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, along with the rest of the front office, had said that they want the next captain to be here long term. Well, they got their wish. It seems like only a matter of time. The Sens will be at home for the next week while they play the Sharks, Rangers and Washington Capitals.
Giovanni Siciliano is a freelance contributor for The Hockey Writers that focuses on the Ottawa Senators. He is a lifelong hockey fan who aims to give his readers more knowledge and better insight pertaining to the game. When Giovanni isn’t covering the latest news & rumours in Ottawa, he is usually crying about being a Detroit Lions fan, playing video games or rewatching The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Office or Seinfeld for the 1000th time. After completing an internship at The Hockey News, and having his stories published like this one, Giovanni knew he wanted to make this a career and share his passion for the game with others. He hosted the FaceOff Hockey Podcast before joining the team at THW, and currently co-hosts and produces the Improversation podcast. To interact with Giovanni about the Sens, NHL, NFL, T.V shows or games, you can follow him on Twitter by clicking here. You can also read more of his articles here.