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Deployment will be key for Tarasenko to thrive with Sens

New York Rangers Vladimir Tarasenko - The Canadian Press

Exit Alex DeBrincat, and enter Vladimir Tarasenko.

The Ottawa Senators made a mid-summer splash last week, signing Tarasenko to a one-year, $5-million contract. The veteran winger had reportedly been hunting for a multi-year deal from a handful of contenders. When such a deal failed to materialize, Tarasenko opted for the short contract in Ottawa, likely in an attempt to cash in next summer.

It’s an intriguing addition for the Senators for a variety of reasons. Ottawa, and Pierre Dorion’s front office specifically, is under immense pressure to deliver a playoff-calibre team. It’s felt at times like an endless rebuild for a franchise that hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2016-17 despite assembling an impressive collection of young talent at the top of the lineup.

At 31 years old and looking for his next (and perhaps last) contract, Tarasenko isn’t a long-term fixture for Ottawa, but he will attempt to plug a meaningful hole in Ottawa’s top six after the departure of DeBrincat. There also isn’t much contractual risk for the Senators. The one-year deal will allow them to flip Tarasenko at the trade deadline if the team’s regular season sours once more.

That said, the Senators sorely need Tarasenko to be a contributor, and there are genuine questions as to what level of production the team should be expecting for the upcoming season. Once one of the NHL’s premier goal scorers, Tarasenko has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, and has seen his offensive production wane over that period.

That’s a concern for a very offensive-minded player like Tarasenko, who has rarely delivered value in the defensive end. In fact, if you look at how Tarasenko has graded relative to replacement-level players over the years, you can see all of his goodness comes from the attack:

There is no doubt Tarasenko is outside of his career peak – from 2014 through 2019 in St. Louis, Tarasenko was as reliable an offensive threat as you could find, averaging 38 goals per season. Doubly valuable for St. Louis was the fact that Tarasenko was a regular presence in the lineup, something we haven’t seen in recent years. During those peak years, Tarasenko missed just 15 total games.

But as Tarasenko’s health and goal-scoring prowess have slowed, so too has his broader impact on team performance and the wins he’s adding to the standings.

Consider the below graph, which shows Tarasenko’s rate scoring at even strength versus the goal differential his teams (St. Louis and the New York Rangers, previously) have realized with him on the ice. They’re perfectly in sync, largely because of the downside effect of Tarasenko’s off-puck play:

Tarasenko has been an underrated playmaker for most of his career, but there is little doubt the premium value he brings to the table is remarkable shooting that can tie goaltenders into knots.


Tarasenko’s teams have greatly benefited from his inclusion in the lineup when he’s a shooting threat. When he’s been more of a pass-first player, or alternatively when he’s played with more puck-dominant players on his line (like his common linemates in New York, which included Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad), the effect has been more muted.

To that end, when it comes to Ottawa understanding optimal line deployment and how to get the most out of Tarasenko, I think there are two points to consider: He must be insulated defensively, and positioning him in the proverbial shooter role may make the most sense offensively.

Given that dual mandate (a difficult one, considering the Senators are not a particularly strong defensive team), I do wonder if we see Ottawa consider splitting up that electric top line from a season ago. Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, and Claude Giroux dazzled at times, but perhaps the team will explore dropping Giroux – now 35 years old, it should be noted – down the lineup to play the setup role with attackers like Josh Norris and Drake Batherson.

Doing so would pair Tarasenko with Stutzle, for my money the best player on the roster heading into next season and the type of player who can have a positive offensive impact on Tarasenko. Add Tkachuk’s frenetic net-front play to the equation, and you may have something.

It remains to be seen if this is a playoff-calibre roster. A lot of things will have to break right, starting with the goaltending. Finding the right complementary skill sets for a player like Tarasenko – still very talented, but perhaps more one-dimensional than you’d like at this point of his career – will go a long way towards getting there.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey