If this were an ordinary NHL season, the Vancouver Canucks would be scant days away from losing exclusive negotiating rights with their pending unrestricted free agents. Typically, the UFA “interview” period opens up a week before July 1, and from there on out free agents are, well, free to talk to other organizations and start gauging the interest of the market.
Obviously, this is not an ordinary NHL season — ordinary left town months ago — but it’s still as good a time as any to look at the “competition” when it comes to extending the Canucks’ three most prominent UFAs.
We’re going to start our series with Vancouver’s longest-serving free agent, and second-longest serving player overall — Chris Tanev. The 30-year-old defender has been in the headlines lately after news broke, and was then swifty denied, that he’d be willing to sign a one-year deal in the wake of the pandemic.
If that’s true, it’s excellent news for the franchise and its fans. It does seem quite unlikely, however, given the litany of other NHL teams who will be looking to add a veteran right-handed defenseman whenever free agency officially opens.
If Tanev makes it that far without a new deal, expect a bidding war to ensue between the following teams.
Right off the bat, it’s important to mention that we’re here to discuss the teams that will be making a serious offer to Tanev, and not necessarily the teams that Tanev himself would be interest in — because, really, he should have no interest in going anywhere near the tire-fire that is the Buffalo Sabres organization.
Still, they have yet to find a competent RHD partner for franchise player Rasmus Dahlin, and they’ll have more than enough cap space to fit in whatever sort of contract Tanev demands. If they were paying any attention to how well Tanev meshed with Quinn Hughes, they should be interested, even if they’ve already got four NHL RHD on the roster in Rasmus Ristolainen, Colin Miller, Brandon Montour, and Henri Jokiharju.
Again, Tanev should have no interest whatsoever in the Eugene Melnyk-owned Senators, but that doesn’t mean the Sens won’t be interested in him. Ottawa has just one NHL-level RHD signed beyond this year, and it’s Nikita Zaitsev. Having just invested a massive amount in franchise defender Thomas Chabot, it would make sense for them to seek out a strong veteran partner on the free agency market, and Tanev would be a great fit.
The Senators also have plenty of cap space to work with but, as recent history has shown, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to spend it. In other words, Ottawa will probably make Tanev an offer — but it might not be a competitive one.
As of right now, the Penguins are overloaded with defenders — but if Justin Schultz leaves this offseason via free agency, they’ll be in the market for a replacement on their right side. True, they’ve already got Kris Letang and surprise rookie John Marino there, but a team that is looking to squeeze a couple more Cup runs out of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin needs more.
Pittsburgh also looks like an appealing destination for Tanev. They’re competitive, loaded with players around his age, and they just signed his brother Brandon to a six-year contract last summer. Perhaps it’s time for a Tanev reunion.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Any way you slice it, Tampa Bay is going to be in salary cap hell this offseason, especially if the reported flat cap doesn’t come with any compliance buyouts. They will rightly be focusing on their own pending free agents, and will be extremely lucky to even get all of them under contract — which doesn’t leave much room for big-ticket UFAs.
Still, if the Lightning are able to clear some space, they will be looking at strengthening the right side of their defence. Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian are UFAs themselves, and Erik Cernak might be a cap casualty. If they find room for him, Tanev would be an excellent addition to their roster — and he’d probably like the idea of moving to Florida and lining up next to Victor Hedman. Who wouldn’t?
Toronto Maple Leafs
You knew this was coming. It seems like Tanev to Toronto rumours have been around for as long as he’s been a Canuck, and they’re only going to intensify if he makes it to the free agent market. The Leafs only have one right-side defender signed beyond this year, and it’s Justin Holl.
With Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci almost certainly departing, there’s a real need on the roster for someone like Tanev — especially considering his previous World Championships chemistry with Morgan Rielly — but creating room for him in their front-loaded cap structure will be significantly more challenging. There’s a chance that Tanev would be willing to take a discount to sign close to where he grew up, but one would hope that he’d offer that same discount to Vancouver first — and that the Canucks would take him up on it.
The Capitals are a strong team, but they do have some holes in their lineup — particularly on the right side of the blueline. John Carlson obviously eats up the majority of the minutes, but Nick Jensen hasn’t panned out the way they would hope and Radko Gudas has become an occasional healthy scratch.
Tanev could definitely be the missing ingredient the Caps need to make another Cup run with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and they could open up enough cap space to sign him by simply letting Braden Holtby walk — something they should probably do anyway with Ilya Samsonov ready to take over the crease. Whether or not Tanev himself would be interested would depend heavily on how comfortable he’d be with a move to the east coast, and how badly he wants to win a championship.
The Ducks aren’t the first team one thinks of as a potential destination for Tanev, but they’re definitely a dark horse contender for his services. They’re on the upswing after rebuilding their roster, have a bunch of young talent about to hit the big league, and are in dire need of some veteran leadership to help the process along. Josh Manson is the only solid NHL RHD they have signed beyond this year — sorry, Erik Gudbranson fans.
But while life in California is always tempting, it’s tough to imagine Tanev leaving the Canucks to join an organization that is a few steps behind them developmentally. It’s likely that Anaheim would have to make an extremely competitive offer for Tanev to even consider it.
Now we start getting to the hurtful ones. Yes, it would absolutely suck to see Tanev suiting up for the Flames, but it’s not as unlikely as Vancouver fans would hope. Calgary’s blueline is in flux this offseason, with TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Erik Gustafsson, Derek Forbort, and Michael Stone all pending UFAs — and none of them guaranteed to return. That leaves Rasmus Andersson pretty lonely on the right side.
If several Calgary defenders depart, look for them to be big players in free agency. Everyone knows that Taylor Hall will be their primary target, but that should still leave them with enough cash to make Tanev an offer, too — and it’s not like he’d need to move far!
If Tanev in Calgary would sting, this one would be unbearable. The Blackhawks are in a bit of a “no man’s land” developmentally, with several ageing vets from their Cup-winning days still on the roster and young prospects starting to force their way in.
With so many new defenders about to show up in the lineup — names like Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, and Ian Mitchell — the Hawks might want an additional veteran presence on the blueline, especially if Brent Seabrook LTIRetires, which looks probable. Again, it’s questionable whether or not Tanev would want to join a franchise in the midst of retooling, but they might throw money at him all the same.
The Stars look like a perfect fit for Tanev. They’ve got an up-and-coming star defender on the left side in Miro Heiskanen, a couple good pieces already on the right in John Klingberg and Stephen Johns, and are definitely strong Cup contenders. Tanev seems like he’d be an ideal “missing piece” to put Dallas over the top.
They’ve also got the cap space to make a competitive offer and no obvious RHD prospects pushing for ice-time. Still, it’s tough to imagine the notoriously laidback Tanev trading in his west coast address for a home in the Lone Star State — but, then again, stranger things have happened.
The Oilers might be a good RHD away from being true championship contenders, and nothing would hurt more than watching Tanev be that guy for them. Fortunately, Vancouver fans will likely be spared that particular humiliation by Edmonton’s abysmal salary cap situation.
There’s definitely a need for Tanev in Edmonton, but not enough for them to break the bank to bring him in — especially not with Connor McDavid still on the lookout for a couple of competent wingers. The smart move would be for the Oilers to simply wait for Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard to develop, which might not take all that long.
St. Louis Blues
You probably didn’t expect to see the Blues on this list, but the prospect of them signing Tanev isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. Clearly, their top priority will be re-signing captain Alex Pietrangelo this offseason, but if they’re unable to do that, they’ll be left with a massive hole on their blueline.
They do have Colton Parayko inked for a couple more seasons, but the right side behind him consists of the disappointing Justin Faulk and the bottom-pairing Robert Bortuzzo. Signing Tanev wouldn’t make up for the loss of Pietrangelo, but it’d be about the best possible solution St. Louis could hope for without dealing a bunch of future assets — and they’re not exactly loaded with those.
The Jets might be the last team on our list, alphabetically-speaking, but they’re probably tied with the Maple Leafs as the top contenders for Tanev’s services if he leaves Vancouver. The Jets’ blueline was devastated by the surprise loss of Dustin Byfuglien, and their right side has looked suspect ever since — and that will only be exacerbated if Dyan DeMelo also departs this offseason.
Even with DeMelo in the mix, the rest of the RHD stable consists of Neal Pionk, Sami Niku, and Tucker Poolman — not exactly an impressive cast of characters for a franchise that is hoping to compete. Tanev started his pro career in Winnipeg and his brother played there for years, so it would be a bit of a “full circle” moment for him to conclude his playing days there. Winnipeg should also have to cap space to make it worth his while.
The Pool Of Other UFA RHDs
Context is everything, and so it’s important to note at this point that Chris Tanev won’t be the only quality right-side defenseman available on the 2020 UFA market — but he will be one of a small handful.
Obviously, the aforementioned Alex Pietrangelo is the best of the bunch, and should be the second-most sought-after UFA after Taylor Hall.
Tanev probably belongs in the next tier of right defenders alongside Tyson Barrie, Justin Schultz, and TJ Brodie — who has recently started playing most of his minutes on his natural left side.
A tier below them, but still in the same ballpark, you’ve got players like Sami Vatanen, Mike Green, Travis Hamonic, Justin Braun, and Dylan DeMelo.
There’s also a wildcard in the mix in the form of Dustin Byfuglien. His future hockey-playing intentions remain ambiguous at this point, but if he decides to make a comeback he’ll probably slot in right after Pietrangelo in the UFA RHD priority list.
And so, Tanev might not be a unique item on the market, but he’s still a rare commodity. If the Canucks want to sign him to a reasonable deal, their best bet will be to make sure the ink is dry before the interview period opens. If not, they’ll almost certainly end up paying for it — one way or another.