OTTAWA — During this two-week road trip to start the season, there have been a number of intriguing storylines involving Ottawa Senators players facing their old coaches.
Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan both faced off against Randy Carlyle at the Air Canada Centre last week, and each player had an axe to grind with the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach. Ryan and MacArthur agreed neither of them would stop and say hello to Carlyle if they passed him in the hallway.
You would think that same frostiness will be present if Kyle Turris runs into Dave Tippett at Jobing.com Arena in Phoenix before the Senators-Coyotes game on Tuesday.
Turris had a memorable contract dispute with the Coyotes following the expiration of his entry-level deal in the summer of 2011. His demands had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the way he was being used by Tippett. The Turris camp felt he was ready to be a top-six forward in the NHL, while the Coyotes were not willing to concede he could reach that level in the near future.
So the 23-year-old centre will certainly be feeling a measure of redemption when he suits up against his old club because he has been the Senators’ most dependable forward in the early part of this season. Besides leading the team with five points, Turris also leads Senators forwards in short-handed time on ice, averaging 3:10 of penalty-killing duty per game.
After the weekend’s games, Turris ranked fifth among all NHL centres in short-handed time on ice, which is a remarkable transformation when you consider how he was used by Tippett just a couple of seasons ago.
In Turris’ final full season with the Coyotes, 2010-11, he collected 11 goals and 14 assists in 65 games. Those numbers were close to those of fellow Phoenix centre Martin Hanzal, who produced 16 goals and 10 assists in 61 games.
However, a closer look at Turris’s ice time under Tippett reveals a coach who did not trust his young centre. In that final season, Turris averaged just 11:16 of ice time and 14 shifts per game. He was only on the ice in short-handed situations for an average of four seconds per game, meaning he was never really on the ice to kill penalties.
To further illustrate how little the Coyotes trusted him, Turris was on the ice for only 9:38 per game when Phoenix was winning. In games in which the Coyotes lost, his ice time increased significantly to 12:45 per game. Simply put, Tippett did not have any faith in Turris when the Coyotes were protecting a lead.
Conversely, if the Coyotes were trailing in the game and needed to generate offence, they used Turris more often, about 35 per cent more.
In that season, Turris produced a point for every 29:18 he spent on the ice. That was actually the best production rate of any of the Coyotes’ four centres, even better than Eric Belanger, who led the pack with 40 points.
Not only was Turris the most productive Coyotes centre relative to time on ice, he was the only one who saw his ice time drastically fluctuate based on game situations: Hanzal – 19:59 time on ice in wins, 18:56 in losses, 45:45 per point; Belanger – 17:12, 17:29, 35:39; Vernon Fiddler – 15:42, 15:20, 50:09; Turris – 9:38, 12:45, 29:18.
Last year with the Senators, Turris averaged 19:25 of ice time in games his team won and 19:51 in games they lost. In short, the difference between Turris’ stints under Paul MacLean and Tippett was significant, showing a coach who trusted this centre in virtually any situation. Part of that was because of injuries to other Senators, but, as you can see this season, MacLean is giving Turris a lot of responsibility even with all of his forwards available. Even in Turris’ first season with Ottawa, 2011-12, when Jason Spezza was healthy for the full year, Turris played 16:57 in games the Senators won and 16:45 in games they lost.
Last year, Turris led the team with 12 goals in the shortened season, and he averaged a point for every 32:30. Ironically, that was a lower production rate than he had in his final season in Phoenix.
The Coyotes weren’t ready to use him in key situations, though, and they felt Turris was expendable. It’s worth noting that, since coming to Ottawa in December 2011, Turris has produced more points than any Coyotes centre during the same span. When you combine that with the fact he is now killing penalties on a regular basis, it’s clear that Turris was right when he tried to convince the Coyotes he could be a top-six forward.
All he needed was the ice time to prove it.