When Chris Tanev is on his game, he’s arguably one of the best stay-at-home defencemen in hockey. The only problem for the Canucks this season was getting Tanev in games period.
Tanev left an October 22nd game against the Los Angeles Kings with an apparent ankle injury, and never recaptured a clean bill of health all season. In terms of what we know of, a rib injury and a quarantine due to a mumps outbreak were among the many ailments that followed.
Though I can’t find a link to the exact soundbite or a transcription of the interview or press conference it came from, I seem to recall a press conference where former Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins suggested Tanev played through an injury or injuries of some sort all season. That’s me paraphrasing a soundbite I can’t find, so take it for what it’s worth. Doesn’t seem far-fetched though, does it?
All the same, Tanev went about his business to the best of his ability as often as his tenuous health would allow. Which, I was surprised to find, was a solid 53 games — far more than I would’ve expected.
There’s a worthwhile question, though, as to what the best of Tanev’s ability really is as he ages further and further away from his prime with each passing, injury-riddled season.
On the surface, this season represents a fairly significant step back. Tanev’s raw underlying shot metrics were, in some cases, the lowest such marks of his seven-year career.
Context matters, though, and I think you’ll be far more sympathetic to Tanev’s fall from grace when you realize the circumstances that drove him to it. Injuries played a significant role, but so did Tanev’s linemates.
Tanev’s two most frequent linemates were Luca Sbisa and Brandon Sutter. Tanev played nearly 70% of his even-strength minutes with Sbisa by his side, and the Canucks controlled a ratio of 45.8% of even strength shot attempts; away from Sbisa, Tanev was closer to 48%. A third of Tanev’s even strength ice-time, Brandon Sutter was his centre, and the Canucks controlled a ratio of 44.7% of even strength shot attempts; away from Sutter, Tanev was closer to 49%.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) May 4, 2017
Meanwhile, in spite of playing with some of the Canucks’ most cumbersome parts, Desjardins used Tanev against the opposition’s best lines night in and night out. No regular Canucks skater had a higher Quality of Competition than Tanev’s 50.21% Cf QoC.
So if you’re unsatisfied with some of the underlying results Tanev suffered, that’s probably with good reason. When we use the GAR metric developed by DTMAboutHeart (short form for Goals Above Replacement) to evaluate Tanev’s season, you have the basis for an argument that this was his best season yet.
The hilarious bit about the Canucks complaining about Tryamkin not being mean enough is that penalties were his biggest issue: pic.twitter.com/7KvkeV4scR
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) April 20, 2017
The main reason the analytics community is starting to use WAR and GAR metrics in place of raw underlying shot data is that it’s a significantly better predictor of goal ratios and more predictable at the player level. These metrics take into account every contextual factor one could imagine, like deployment, usage, linemates, opponents, shot location, shooter quality, shooter type, prior seasons, etc. to provide the most revealing, predictable results.
So in that frame, it wasn’t terribly surprising that as I peeled the layers back, Tanev’s season looked increasingly favourable. He was still limiting opposition shot quality, and whenever he wasn’t attached to a sub-replacement level linemate, he kept his head above water by underlying shot metrics.
The fact of the matter is, Tanev is still an elite defensive defenceman with a uniquely positive impact on suppressing opposition goals. The only question that remains is for how much longer he plies his trade on the Canuck’s blue line (more or that later).
Should Tanev return to the Canucks next season, it’s likely that, with a clean bill of health, he returns to form and hits his pre-injury stride. And when he’s at his best, the Canucks’ end of the ice is a no-fly zone. That counts for something, even if it’s hard to tell what a brilliant job he’s doing to the naked eye.