One month from now (September 26th), the Ottawa Senators will play their first preseason game and they still have not signed Brady Tkachuk, their best young player and probably their next captain. But at least they now have a benchmark for what a player like Tkachuk is worth.
Andrei Svechnikov is very much a player like Tkachuk, and today Svechnikov agreed to an eight-year, $62 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. It has an average annual value of $7.75 million through the 2028-29 season. Svechnikov scored 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 55 games for the ‘Canes last season, tied for third with defenceman Dougie Hamilton (10 goals, 32 assists).
Let’s look at how Svechnikov truly compares to Tkachuk.
Both are 21-year-old restricted free agents. Both are left shot wingers, drafted early in the 2018 NHL draft – Svechnikov went second overall while Tkachuk went fourth. Svechnikov has played 206 games, scoring 59 goals and 140 points. Tkachuk has played 198 games, scoring 60 goals and 125 points.
While their pedigree and offensive output are comparable, Tkachuk doesn’t have Svechnikov’s puck skills, as we saw two seasons ago when Svechnikov twice pulled off the “Michigan,” a lacrosse-style goal that’s hard enough to do in practice, let alone a game.
That’s not to suggest Tkachuk doesn’t have skill, of course. It’s just that more of his offensive production comes from dirty goals, going hard to the net and setting up Camp Tkachuk in the slot, foraging for rebounds, screens and deflections.
Tkachuk is hard skill. Svechnikov trends toward soft skill. While both can have equal impacts on games, it’s hard skill that thrives most in the bog of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when puck skill tends to be neutered by fierce defensive play and less attentive officiating.
One should also factor in the two players’ linemates last season. Svechnikov had just 6 points more than Tkachuk but did so while playing with Sebastien Aho, one of the best-established centres in the NHL. Tkachuk had Josh Norris – a rookie last season. They’ll be a dynamic duo someday but Norris still has plenty of developing to do before reaching Aho’s level.
So one could make a fair argument that Tkachuk is the slightly more valuable player and, as such, should get a slightly better deal than Svechnikov. An 8 year deal worth $8 million per season feels right and also quite conveniently puts him on equal terms with teammate Thomas Chabot.
It should be as simple as that. And in most markets, it would be that simple. But Ottawa is always complicated. Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk likes to go his own way, both financially and strategically.
Melnyk is already on record (not on Ottawa media, of course), telling a Toronto-based podcast in May he didn’t want his next captain to be on a shorter-term bridge deal. It was a not-so-subtle ultimatum and an odd way to enter what everyone hoped would be an amicable off-season of talks.
In Raleigh, Svechnikov happily signed long-term today because he wanted security (probably for many generations of his family). But he also had to be content with the Hurricanes as a group and trust their commitment to winning, both now and in the future.
Does Tkachuk trust Ottawa’s commitment to winning, both now and in the future? Does he trust it enough to commit long term and forego his prime UFA years? That’s probably what this comes down to.
Melnyk said in that same podcast interview, “No one’s ever trashed a team the way we have.” It was another frank admission that this rebuild was a team-driven strategy. Over three difficult seasons, Tkachuk lived through the entire trashing, starting with the Erik Karlsson deal just before Tkachuk’s first training camp. On the day Mark Stone was traded, much to Keith Tkachuk’s chagrin, the Senator fan base held its breath, hoping Stone would re-sign and stay. But Stone’s exit was clearly never in doubt by that time. Melnyk told a CBC Ottawa reporter on the street that day the Stone deal was simply, “Part of our rebuild. We’ve been planning this for some time.”
In fairness, several of these rebuilding moves now look outstanding for Ottawa. But that still doesn’t make it easy for Tkachuk to commit the way Svechnikov did. After everything Tkachuk has seen, he must be filled with questions:
How can he completely ignore the possibility of another rebuild looming in the not-so-distant future?
Was the last rebuild sparked by a team desire to improve or just cut costs and save money?
How can Tkachuk be sure the club will keep spending to keep this emerging young team together?
And how can he forget that he might be dealt away like Stone, Karlsson or JG Pageau? Fun fact: Stone, Karlsson and Pageau all have the same agent as Tkachuk.
That’s why, despite the Svechnikov contract, a shorter-term deal still remains the more likely scenario for Tkachuk. Perhaps it’ll be a three-year deal so he can see how things look after that. But anything’s possible. Tkachuk is the clear leader of an exciting, fun-loving young team, filled with friends, high character, and potential. It’s his team, if he wants it.
Perhaps that’s the one X factor that might propel Tkachuk into long-term thinking.
By Steve Warne