This morning, the New Jersey Devils added a depth forward. The team announced that they signed Chris Tierney to a one-season, two-way contract. When Tierney is with the Devils, he will be paid at a rate of $775,000 per season - which is the NHL minimum salary for the 2023-24 season. If Tierney is with the Utica Comets, then he will be paid at a rate of $400,000 - which is one of the higher two-way salaries in the AHL. This is absolutely a contract for a player that may go between the NHL and AHL. Let us learn more about the newest Devil/Comet.
Who is Chris Tierney?
As indicated by the headline photo, Tierney is a former San Jose Shark. He played with Timo Meier for the first two seasons of Meier’s time as a Shark. He started off as a depth forward with some potential. Tierney broke out with 17 goals and 40 points in the 2017-18 season (Tierney’s fourth), which led to a nice bump in pay to a $5.875 million contract over two seasons after that season. He never played for the Sharks again as Tierney was one of the many Sharks going to Ottawa in exchange for Erik Karlsson. Tierney continued to provide a decent amount of production on that contract with Ottawa: nine goals and 39 points for a career high of 48 points in 2018-19. In 2019-20, he had eleven goals and 37 points by the time the league shutdown. The continued production was rewarded with another bump in pay: $7 million over two seasons. However, that was when it started to go down for Tierney.
Tierney was averaging 17 minutes per game in first two seasons in Ottawa. However, upon the return of the NHL in 2021, the 26-year old struggled. He saw his ice time cut, his production cut, his faceoff winning percentage drop to a level he had not seen since his sophomore season (45.6%) and his rate of shots also drop. He finished 2021 with six goals and 19 points. Not ideal for someone on a $3.5 million cap hit. The 2021-22 season saw the minutes drop below 13 per game. While his faceoff winning percentage improved to just under 50%, his production remained stagnant with six goals and 18 points in 70 games. Ottawa let him hit the market in 2022. He signed with Florida for a one season, two-way contract: $750,000 (league minimum last season) in the NHL and $450,000 in the AHL.
While the Panthers signed Tierney, he did not make the team out of camp. He was placed on waivers, cleared them, and reported to the AHL affiliate in Charlotte. Tierney showed he was clearly very capable at the AHL level with three goals and 16 points in 20 games with the Checkers. Florida called him up in December as an injury replacement. He got five games in December, put up two goals and an assist while playing on the fourth line. Not great and he was returned before Christmas, but he would get another recall in January by the Panthers. There, he would play in eight more games and put up nothing on the scoresheet, three shots total, and an occasional faceoff win. Florida would place him back on waivers in February to send him back to the Checkers. Montreal, then wrecked by injuries, claimed Tierney. There, he would get into 23 games in a bottom-six role. Tierney contributed 13 shots, one goal, seven points, and a -19 in faceoffs for a winning percentage just under 45%. Montreal needed a guy and Tierney, well, was a guy.
Tierney is now 29 years old and signed with the Devils for a contract similar to the one he signed with Florida. By the production alone, it appears Tierney was a very different contributor before and after the pandemic. By his on-ice rates in 5-on-5 at Natural Stat Trick, Tierney went to a guy who was not doing well in the run of play to a guy who was absolutely drowning in it last season. Perhaps that has to do more with his usage and the team he is on. The point remains: This is not the same Tierney that emboldened himself in San Jose and appeared to perform well for two seasons in Ottawa. Why the change? Was he hurt and never fully recovered? Did he just start declining ahead of his 30s? I do not know for sure.
Why Did the Devils Sign Tierney?
What happened to Tierney is a good question but it does not matter much with respect to why he was signed. Simply: He is a depth center.
The Devils have become short at the position. At the NHL level, the centers are Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Erik Haula, and Michael McLeod. Dawson Mercer and Curtis Lazar could play in the middle, but based on their usage so far in New Jersey, the team likely prefers both to be wingers. At the AHL level, the centers that the Devils could call up were all just acquired in this offseason: Shane Bowers was acquired for Reilly Walsh and Kyle Criscuolo and Justin Dowling were free agent signings. While they have had tastes at the NHL level, they strike me as better suited to play in Utica. The depth at this position is still not that strong. Not that the Devils can totally overcome an injury to, say, Hughes or Hischier; but a viable call-up option at center was missing in the system. Today’s signing of Tierney accomplishes this.
As much as last season was a disappointment for Tierney on paper, he is a far better fill-in option than Bowers, Dowling, or Criscuolo. Tierney has 597 regular season games and 40 playoff games worth of NHL experience. Tierney may not be dominant at the dot, but with a career faceoff winning percentage of 48.9%, he is not a total liability either. That he signed a two-way contract last season and reported to Charlotte, Tierney is professional enough to understand that he is now a tweener in this league. Someone who may not be good enough anymore to be a regular in the NHL but someone who would be so good at the AHL level as to warrant call-ups. I have little doubt that he would go to Utica if/when he is sent down. Which makes this signing beneficial for them as the Comets definitely need help at the forward position - something they have addressed as per James’ recent post.
Again, this a depth signing. The Devils are not a supremely better or worse team for it. Tierney is an additional player to jump to the Devils if or when they need a center without hoping Bowers, Dowling, or Criscuolo can hang at the NHL level. It is low-cost (except at the AHL level) both in terms of salary and term. While Tierney would have to go through waivers, he cleared them before in the NHL last season. He was only claimed by a team that desperately needed players (Montreal used 36 forwards last season!). I think he would pass through should he not make New Jersey out of camp. Jared questioned if the Devils could add another depth forward on Wednesday. On Friday morning, the team said yes and made the kind of signing you would expect two weeks after free agency began. This is the depth forward signed. And it is fine for what it is.
Now that you know what I think of the Chris Tierney signing, I would like to know your opinion. What do you make of the signing? Do you know what happened to him after 2020? How many games do you think you’ll see Tierney next season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this depth center signing in the comments. Thank you for reading.