The Calgary Flames haven’t made the earth shaking trades many expected after their first-round exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars, but there have been substantial changes to the roster through free agency.
Last season was the year of signing ex-Oilers, and this year seems to have followed a similar script, except this time it’s the Vancouver Canucks.
After adding Jacob Markstrom, who finished fourth in Vezina this past season, the Flames also signed defenseman Chris Tanev, who had spent his entire 10-year NHL career with the Canucks.
Related: Evaluating what the Calgary Flames have in Jacob Markstrom
Initial fan reaction to the Tanev signing was mixed. Most of the complaints surrounding the signing had to do with the fact that T.J. Brodie had just signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs to a contract worth just a shade more than what Tanev will make with the Flames.
On the other side, Tanev’s reputation as a shut-down defender and solid penalty killer makes him slot more as a replacement for Travis Hamonic rather than Brodie. We looked into what Tanev does on the ice, off the ice, and what his impact will be as a Flame for the next five years. We reached out to Samir Javer (@samir_javer), a longtime Canucks fan, to give his insights on Tanev’s evaluation.
What Tanev brings
Tanev’s strength is his defensive ability. He’s lauded as a pure defensive defenseman and the numbers definitely back that up. At 5v5, he has started most of his shifts in the defensive zone in all of the past seven seasons. He’s used to protect leads, get the puck out of the defensive zone, and smother opponent offenses.
Tanev has been one of the top shot blockers in the league almost his whole career, good for an average of two or three blocks per game. Last season, he logged over 250 minutes on the penalty kill as well, used by the Canucks as their top PK defender.
One of his key defensive strengths is his keen ability to shut down zone entries on the penalty kill. With Tanev guarding the blueline, it’s tough for opposing forecheckers to gain the zone, which disrupts power play setups and helps to eat the clock when down a man.
Tanev is also a minute muncher who can be relied on to play over 20 minutes a night in a primarily defensive role. It’s these types of players that allow more offensively minded blueliners and forward lines to lead rushes up the ice. Just knowing you have a player like Tanev back as a safety net helps promote offensive creativity and chances with the other four players on the ice.
An understated benefit to adding Tanev is that he’ll be able to take away a lot of the hard PK minutes from aging Mark Giordano, keeping him fresh for 5v5 and power play minutes instead.
This chart shows Tanev’s isolated impact at 5v5; he was one of the absolute best defensive defensemen in every year except last year. Whether that had to do with him having a high flying partner in Quinn Hughes pushing the puck up the ice, other deployment changes, or Father Time catching up to Tanev remains to be seen. The Flames are definitely hoping he can return to his shutdown prowess going forward.
Off the ice, Tanev was one of the most well-liked Canucks. He played for the team for 10 years, and was regarded as a heart and soul guy, well respected in the locker room, and a leader on the team. He wore an “A” for the past four seasons in Vancouver, and while he might not wear a letter for the Flames right away, he’ll definitely add to the leadership group on the team.
On top of that, Tanev was Calder Trophy finalist Hughes’ most common linemate last season. He helped Hughes grow throughout the season, serving as a mentor both on the ice for the rookie. Tanev has served as a big brother to Canucks rookies throughout his time with the team. If he does end up as Juuso Valimaki‘s partner as many are predicting, it might be the perfect fit for the Flames rookie.
What tanev doesn’t bring
Just like with Hamonic, you won’t see Tanev scoring goals or leading offensive rushes. He’s simply not suited for that part of the game and his strengths do not lie in the offensive zone.
He did see some time on the Canucks’ second power play unit, but that was more to do with a lack of options than with Tanev being used for his offensive ability. With the Flames, it’s likely that all of the other five defensemen would get power play time over Tanev.
Tanev also doesn’t win the possession battle. He almost always ends up on the losing end of Corsi for, scoring chances, high danger chances, and expected goals. Of course, his lopsided defensive deployment and inability to drive offense likely has more to do with this than him getting beat up 5v5 on a nightly basis.
Again, last season was a departure from his career picture, and the Flames are hoping he can show that this past season was an anomaly.
The above chart shows that last season saw Tanev create fewer chances for, and allow more chances against than average.
The other big knock on Tanev is that he’s been extremely injury prone throughout his career. Since he became a full time NHLer, Tanev has missed time in every single season except the last one. However, take this with a grain of salt as some of his injuries have been due to some really bad luck as opposed to issues with his general durability.
For a guy who weighs in at 6′-2″ and 197 lbs, Tanev is also not a player who will throw lots of big hits or run guys through the boards. Physicality isn’t something that he uses to defend. Instead he relies on positioning and stick work, a key difference between him and Hamonic.
Predicting tanev’s role
Tanev is signed for the next four years and projects as a bottom-four defender with heavy defensive deployment. In all likelihood, Rasmus Andersson will graduate to the top pairing with Giordano, and Tanev will play on a pairing with either Hanifin or Valimaki. With Tanev serving as the defensive defenseman on the pairing, it will allow his partner, either Hanifin or Valimaki to be the puck carrier, lead breakouts, and jump into the rush.
Tanev was signed to replace what Hamonic brought on the ice, and it looks like he should be able to fill those shoes. Hopefully he can return to being a premiere defensive defenseman, and his impact in his own zone will drive success in the offensive zone as well.
What do you think of the Tanev signing? Let us know in the comments or social media.
Photo courtesy: Sergei Belski-USA Today Sports
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