There’s something wrong with the Vancouver Canucks.
Is it a lack of confidence? A lack of talent? Poor coaching?
Is there a leadership issue? A fractured dressing room?
There’s no shortage of theories that have been thrown around, and the truth probably involves a combination of all of them.
It all underscores how much of an error it was to let Chris Tanev walk in free agency 13 months ago.
Tanev signed a four-year deal worth $4.5 million per season with the Calgary Flames after the 2019-20 season. The dollar value made sense, but the term was risky given Tanev’s age of 30 and injury history.
There are times when teams need to overspend a little in free agency, and this turned out to be one of those times. But GM Jim Benning had already overpaid Loui Eriksson ($6M), Jay Beagle ($3M), Antoine Roussel ($3M), and Tyler Myers ($6M) in free agency in recent years, so there wasn’t enough flexibility to do the same with Tanev.
With the benefit of hindsight, giving Tanev four years doesn’t look like a bad idea at all now.
Count the areas where the Canucks need help. In all of them, save for the power play, Tanev is sorely missed.
With Tanev playing the second-most overall minutes (21:05 per game) for the Flames this season, Calgary is tied for the most points in the NHL. They’re first in goals-against average, have given up the fifth-fewest shots-against, and have the fifth-best penalty killing percentage.
After so many injury-riddled seasons in Vancouver, Tanev hasn’t missed a game for the Flames yet.
Nobody plays more shorthanded minutes for the Flames than Tanev, who is their most irreplaceable defenceman, according to Aaron Vickers, our sports writer based in Calgary.
At five-on-five, Tanev has been paired with Oliver Kylington, a 24-year-old blueliner thriving in his first year as a full-time NHL player.
“Taney is a great guy and I think we have good chemistry off the ice and on the ice,” Kylington told reporters last week. “We read off each other really good and I think he’s a really really really good player, and it helps me a lot. I just try to do what I’m good at and what I know that I’m good at. He’s a really good defensive d-man. I think we compliment each other really good out there.”
Quinn Hughes might shed a tear listening to that.
Merely adding Tanev to your team doesn’t fix everything, as evidenced by the Flames missing the playoffs last season. Tanev was one of their best players though, drawing the praise of GM Brad Treliving after last season.
Tanev finished the season playing through broken ribs and a torn pectoral muscle — firmly solidifying his reputation as a warrior in Alberta.
“I think he missed a practice [and that’s it],” said Treliving. “That tells you a little bit about Chris Tanev.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player play through what this guy played through this year for a period of time of about a month,” Treliving added. “He played till the end, and he wasn’t going to come out.”
“I was really impressed with Chris. He’s a consummate pro… He’s just a real stabilizer; he makes those around him better. A lot of his game’s underrated. We talked about how well he defends, but he moves well, he gets you out of his end with his puck ability.”
“You talk about the culture of winning and what it takes to win, this guy puts it on the line and we’re lucky to have him.”
Think the Canucks could use some of that?
Vancouver currently has the worst penalty kill in the NHL, and gives up the 10th-most goals-against.
The Canucks have some offensive-minded defencemen, but they’re missing Tanev’s attention to defence — even as he’s getting older. How good would he look back with Hughes, or even on a shutdown pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson?
How would Vancouver’s penalty kill look with Tanev fearlessly blocking shots with his body and interrupting passes with his stick?
How would the Canucks forwards look moving through the neutral zone receiving calm tape-to-tape passes from Tanev?
If there’s a leadership gap or fractures developing in the dressing room, do you think Tanev — a player his Canucks teammates affectionately called “dad” could have helped?
Of course he could.
Shelling out four years for Tanev was a gamble for the Flames, but it wasn’t as risky as giving Eriksson six years, or Beagle and Roussel four years each. Braden Holtby got $4.3 million per season and was promptly bought out. Jake Virtanen was bought out too, after getting a $2.55 million AAV contract.
For years, money was spent frivolously, but they drew the line at Tanev.
And they’re paying for it now.