The Vancouver Canucks will be facing quite the conundrum with a number of key players hitting free agency this offseason. When the dust settles at the beginning of 2020-21, who will be left standing? Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher are two defencemen in the same lake, but in different boats, as one is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) while the other is a restricted free agent (RFA). If you were general manager Jim Benning, who would you rank higher on your list of priorities? The steady veteran shot-blocking warrior who has been a part of the franchise for over a decade or the Richmond native who is still in the prime of his career? Let’s explore each to find out!
The Case for Chris Tanev
Ever since Tanev entered the NHL as an undrafted free agent from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he has been a steady, calm presence on the Canucks’ blueline. In fact, his rookie season saw him play five games in the pressure-filled atmosphere of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and he never looked out of place.
He could have played with a cigarette in his mouth.Former Canucks’ defenceman Kevin Bieksa on Tanev’s calm demeanor
Over the next nine seasons, Tanev played an integral part of the successful teams, as well as the not-so-successful ones too. His unrelenting need to put his body in harm’s way got him injured a lot throughout the years, but he never ever wavered from his job to defend. He was also the perfect partner to any of the defencemen he was paired with. Be it Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, or the dynamic Quinn Hughes, he always complimented them perfectly.
Now that Tanev is a veteran of over 500 games, he has a lot to teach the young players in the dressing room. The Canucks have welcomed his presence around the team with their emerging core of young stars. Hughes, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Adam Gaudette, and Elias Pettersson are all under 25 and have already given him the nickname of “Dad” because of his experience in the league. If the Canucks are going to do anything with this group this season and beyond, he will be an integral part of it.
I’d love to play my whole career here. Who knows what’s going to happen? But I love it here, I want to stay here, I think the team is going in the right direction and if we come back to play this year, I think we’re going to have a real good shot at competing and going far. I’d like to be part of that in the future.Chris Tanev on his future with the Canucks
In the end, Tanev has been a key part of the team’s resurgence, as he’s helped mentor Hughes through his explosive Calder Trophy-worthy season and has become the glue that holds the defence core together. Without him, they are significantly weaker.
The Case for Troy Stecher
Another undrafted defenceman out of the college ranks, Stecher has established himself as a steady two-way player in the NHL. Coming from a highly successful North Dakota team in the NCAA, he brought a maturity that not a lot of defencemen have coming into their rookie season. Despite starting in the American Hockey League with the Utica Comets before his NHL debut, he finished the campaign with the Canucks and accumulated 3 goals and 24 points along the way as well.
Stecher has proven to be a swiss army knife on the blue line with the ability to jump into the top-four when needed and play on both special teams as well. He’s mobile, smart, and very low maintenance, not to mention he is only 26-years-old. I’m sure most NHL teams would love a defenceman like him patrolling the defensive zone.
Related: Troy Stecher’s Journey To The NHL
Stecher may have had an up and down season in 2019-20 starting on the third pair with Jordie Benn and battling lower minutes, but he never complained. He stayed calm and even-keel like he always does, even when he was seemingly on the trade block in February. However, after being paired with Edler again, he gained confidence and his ice time and production went up.
Stecher just has the perfect personality to be a defenceman in the NHL. You can’t get too high or too low, just go to work and do your job. That’s why he’s been so successful coming in as an undrafted player. Whatever happens in the future, he will continue to be a fixture on the blueline, be it in Vancouver or somewhere else.
Both Stecher and Tanev have proven to be key parts of the Canucks over the last few seasons. In many ways, they are two sides of the same coin adding maturity, low-maintenance play, and a calming influence to the defence core. In Stecher, you get offence and mobility, but in Tanev you get experience and superior defensive play. It’s a difficult choice, but the winner of this “pick one” battle goes to the veteran Tanev.
In the end, you have to ask the question, who would you want to go into battle with when the playoffs roll around? The answer has to be Tanev. He plays the position with a warrior-like mentality, as he’s never met a puck that he doesn’t want to get in front of. Over the course of his career, he’s blocked a gaudy 1,050 shots and has eclipsed the 100-mark five times. He’s also come back from injury almost every season and still continues to do it. He pairs well with any defenceman, has some offensive ability, and can kill penalties with aplomb. He is also not slow by any means and has proven to be an effective leader in the dressing room too.
It’s Tanev who is more valuable to the Canucks then Stecher. If they choose to move on from him, there will be a significant hole on the blueline that cannot be filled by just any defenceman. He just brings too much to the table as a player on the ice and personality in the dressing room. Just like Bieksa and Sami Salo before him, the loss will be felt not long after he leaves.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.