Chris Tierney looking great in this scrimmage. It’s early, but perhaps he’s a better fit for third line center than Hertl is #SJSharks— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzCSN) September 25, 2016
Before you people start frothing at the mouth because you hate Friend of the Blog Kevin Kurz, let’s just settle down. This is not the craziest, worst suggestion in the entire world. It’s just not a very good one, in my opinion. Let’s talk about why the San Jose Sharks need to make Tomas Hertl the third line center, not Chris Tierney.
For the purpose of this argument, we’ll say it’s no big deal that Hertl won’t play on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. This is something I believe with all my heart and soul. Someone else can fill that hole. I promise. Really. Still with me? Okay, so the next part of this deal is that Hertl is obviously the better player.
I’m sure there is someone on Earth who wants to argue that the player on the right is better, but I’m not going to get into an argument with Tierney’s mom. A pretty common argument seems to be that Hertl struggled when he previously played center. If that is true (it isn’t), we should acknowledge the Czech forward has improved since he regularly played center.
As for the idea that he struggled, take a look at Hertl’s corsi-for percentage relative to his team over his three-season career. He posted a 1.3 in his rookie season (13-14), 3.1 in his second year (where he spent half the season as a center) and 5.8 last season playing with the Joes.
Those are all impressive numbers and the time he spent at center in 2014-15 was often with fourth line teammates. Take a look at his most common 5v5 teammates (with TOI in parentheses) that season:
Hertl-Tierney Wingels (70.96)
While with Sheppard and Nieto, the line posted a 56.97 corsi-for percentage. With Sheppard-Goodrow it was just a 46.04 (though I believe Sheppard centered that line) and with Tierney-Wingels it was 42.83.
Here’s the thing: Tierney, Wingels and Sheppard are fourth liners. That’s who they are. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it feels disingenuous to say that Hertl struggled as a third line center when he didn’t get a chance to play with third line teammates.
Tierney gets credit for playing center in the postseason last year as the Sharks struggled with depth thanks to a couple of injuries. The problem with that is Tierney didn’t play all that well and was put into extremely safe situations while playing center.
His zone, score and venue adjusted corsi-for percentage in the postseason was just 36.02 percent while playing with Melker Karlsson and Joel Ward. Tierney didn’t fare well with Wingels and Nick Spaling, either, posting a 49.12.
I haven’t been at training camp this week and will accept that Tierney could have gotten a lot better this offseason. But I highly doubt he’s now better than Hertl. If anything, it makes more season to put Tierney with Thornton and Pavelski while slotting Hertl into the third line. Boom. Make it happen.
All stats courtesy of corsica.hockey, hockey-reference.com and puckalytics.com.