Filling the Void: Ottawa’s Perpetual Search for a Second Line Center

Usually when people hear the phrase ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, they think of that schmaltzy INXS ballad that was released in the late ‘80s.

Here in Ottawa, Kyle Turris should be employing the words as part of his recruiting pitch to encourage Alfie to play another season.

For years, the organization has tried to cultivate and develop an effective two-way center whose offensive skills lived up to the position. They had hoped that Mike Fisher would be that guy. He wasn’t. He was an exceptional third line center who never elevated the play of his skilled linemates. The Antoine Vermette experiment was short-lived, maybe too short-lived.. He was eventually dealt to the Blue Jackets for Pascal Leclaire and a second round pick that became Robin Lehner.

In the eight seasons that Jason Spezza has tallied more than 50 points, only once has he had another center tally 50-plus points in the same season. In fact, in the Senators’ 20 season existence, there have only been six seasons in which the team had two centers put up 50-plus points.

  • 1993/94: Yashin (79) and Daigle (51)
  • 1999/00: Bonk (60) and Prospal (55)
  • 2000/01: Yashin (88) and Bonk (59)
  • 2001/02: Bonk (70) and White (50)
  • 2002/03: Bonk (54) and White (60)
  • 2009/10: Fisher (53) and Spezza (57)

Coming off a season in which he tallied 12 goals and 29 points in the 49 games that he played for the Senators last season, there is some palpable optimism that Kyle Turris can be the productive second line center that the organization has lacked since Radek Bonk left. Case in point, NHL.com’s John Kreiser lists Turris as one of seven young candidates who are poised for a breakout season.

With Turris, it has never been a question of pedigree. Drafted third overall by Phoenix in 2007, the gifted center’s talent and tools were recognized at an early age. Unfortunately for Turris, his personal development as a player took a backseat to the success of the team.

Phoenix GM Don Maloney defended this position at the beginning of training camp by stating:

“Well I think Kyle believes in himself. He believes he’s a good player in this league and we’d certainly like more opportunity for him to show it.

But we’re not a developing team, we’re here to win, we’re here to win now. He showed a step forward in the playoffs last year. That’s why we’d like to get him back. We’d like to show that process and that step forward and the production we need out of Kyle Turris to be a good offensive player. But it’s not there yet… You have to perform before you get paid.”

After posting an impressive 5v5 production rate that was proportionate to his ice-time in the 2010/11 season, the move to Ottawa gave Turris the opportunity and supporting cast to thrive. Together with Daniel Alfredsson, the duo thrived in the puck possession game and permitted head coach Paul MacLean to match their line against the opposition’s best players.

For a player who missed training camp and the early stages of 2011/12 season while posturing for a trade, Sens fans are eagerly anticipating next season to see what an acclimated Turris can do. And in turn, Turris should be eagerly anticipating Alfie’s decision not to retire.

Looking at the 5v5 numbers at HockeyAnalysis.com, here’s what Turris did at 5v5 with and without Alfie.

                                TOI       GF     GF/20     GA     GA/20     GF%  
Turris + Alfie 524:12 21 .801 12 .458 .636
Turris – Alfie 260:02 8 .615 12 .923 .400
Alfie – Turris 514:44 24 .933 22 .855 .559

From the numbers, it’s apparent that Turris’ production dropped slightly when Alfie was removed from his line. As expected, when you replace a player of Alfie’s calibre with a Colin Greening or a Bobby Butler, production will inevitably diminish.

Conversely, you can explain Alfie’s jump in production in the same manner. Usually, when he’d be removed from Turris’ line, it was because Jason Spezza’s line needed a spark. Alfie’s possession skill brought a dimension to Spezza’s wing that was otherwise lacking. Furthermore, Paul MacLean also had a tendency of using Karlsson and Kuba with the first line as five-man unit.

Despite a slight drop in offensive production, in looking at his corsi metrics, whenever he is apart from Alfie, his line still outchances the opposition. (Note: CF/20 stands for Corsi Events For per 20 minutes of ice-time. CA/20 represents Corsi Events Against per 20 minutes of ice-time. For those who aren’t familiar with corsi, it is a proxy for puck possession that works like the conventional +/- but measures shot attempts – on net, blocked shots, missed shots.)

                                 TOI       CF     CF/20     CA     CA/20     CF%  
 Turris + Alfie  524:12 561 21.4 450 17.2 .555
Turris – Alfie 260:02 292 22.5 264 20.3 .525
Alfie – Turris 514:44 524 20.4 413 16.0 .559

Albeit, Turris’ line isn’t as dominating as it is with Alfie on the right, it does give hope, despite the spike in goals against when apart from Alfie, Turris has the makings of a competent and productive two-way player going forward.

For the organization to take that next step towards eventual Cup contention, they’ll need Turris to take the next step too (something something importance of depth down the middle). Fortunately for Ottawa, Turris is still very young and developing. Remaining in Ottawa to work out and prepare himself physically under the tutelage of Chris Schwartz is a great first step. Getting Alfredsson back to flank him, will be even better.

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