The Vancouver Canucks may be saying goodbye to defenceman Chris Tanev when free agency opens its doors on Oct 9. The veteran of 10 seasons and 514 games is a valuable defenceman in the NHL, so it’s no wonder that there are a number of teams lining up to bust down his door in a few weeks. He’s a monster in the defensive zone, kills penalties with aplomb, and blocks shots like there is a rubber magnet embedded in his body.
The latest in the rumour mill has Tanev signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins as they appear to be prepared to offer him a five-year deal when the clock strikes 12 on the ninth. His brother Brandon is already on the team as they signed him during the last offseason to a six-year deal valued at $3.5 million AAV. They also have former Canucks assistant coach Mike Sullivan, who is obviously impressed with what Chris brings to the table having coached him before. So it’s no surprise that the Penguins would be interested given the familiarity and their lack of depth on the right side.
The Canucks, of course, want Tanev back in the fold, especially with how he impacted Quinn Hughes, but the price and term have to be right for that to happen. They do not have a tonne of cap space and are still focused on signing fellow free agents Tyler Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom. In fact, they have been reported as taking priority over Tanev. So, if he wants too much I would not be surprised to see them move on from the long-time Canuck defenceman.
As the days go by, it’s looking more and more likely that the Canucks will do just that. So, who could they get to replace him as Hughes’ right-hand man? Let’s take a look at a few options, shall we?
Option One: Unrestricted Free Agency
The Canucks can, of course, look at the free-agent market for a replacement. This year’s class is not particularly deep with high-end talent, starting and ending with Alex Pietrangelo, but there are a few mid-tier options that could interest them.
Dylan DeMelo, formally of the Winnipeg Jets, is kind of like Tanev-lite. He’s not as accomplished defensively, but he has a lot of the same attributes. He has played with young phenoms before having spent time with Tomas Chabot in Ottawa and Josh Morrissey in Winnipeg, and he plays a simple game in every zone. In addition to that, his fancy stats look great too, as he has only been below 50 in Corsi-for percentage (CF%) twice in his career.
DeMelo is also a right-hand shot who kills penalties, blocks shots and plays a physical game. More importantly, he’s only 27-years-old and won’t demand a lot in free agency.
Why not a blast from the past? Luke Schenn, who is currently playing in the Stanley Cup Final with the Tampa Bay Lightning, could be just what the doctor ordered to fill the vacant spot beside Hughes. He seemed to have chemistry with him at the end of the last season and was even credited with calming Hughes’ nerves during his first few NHL games.
He calmed me down…I wasn’t, I honestly wasn’t nervous at all in that first game; and those five games, I wasn’t nervous. I think because, you know, he was always talking to me, he’s really communicative and he was good, like we didn’t spend a lot of time in the D zone. He helped me out a lot.Quinn Hughes on Luke Schenn’s presence (from ‘Patrick Johnston: Quinn Hughes’ nervy start was calmed by cool hand Luke (Schenn)’, The Province, 1/7/20)
The Canucks attempted to sign him in the offseason, but Schenn decided to go with the Lightning and they subsequently decided on Jordie Benn to fill that bottom-pairing role. Now that Tanev could be moving elsewhere, I think it’s something that is worth exploring again.
Schenn is only 30-years-old and won’t cost too much to sign. Like Tanev, he is a great penalty killer and an avid shot blocker. He is also more physical than him, posting 2466 hits over the course of his career.
Option Two: Via Trade
The Canucks will be active in the trade market, there’s no doubt about that. In order to sign Markstrom, Toffoli, and their many RFAs, they will have to lighten their wallet a bit. The only way to do that is to offload some contracts on to other teams. Here are a few players they could target to fill Tanev’s shoes and fix their salary cap problems at the same time.
Colin Miller – Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres are going through yet another shakeup after missing the playoffs for the ninth straight season. So, they will without a doubt be trying to change things up using the trade market. Colin Miller was brought in from the Vegas Golden Knights to help solidify their defence, but he ended up being a secondary piece most of the time. He had a career-low 11 points in 51 games last season and was relegated to a healthy scratch at times as well.
If Miller can get back to the player that potted 41 points in 2017-18 with the Golden Knights, he could become the second Miller to experience a career renaissance with the Canucks. J.T. Miller being the first, establishing career highs in points and goals after being acquired from the Lightning this past offseason.
Miller is more mobile than Tanev, and he could provide a lot more offence than him as well. He also has a cannon of a shot on the power play, which would make the second unit that much more of a threat. Heck, he could be put on the first unit and help establish an even more dangerous power play formation than it is right now. The Canucks have not had a shot like that from the point since Sami Salo was blasting away from that position.
As for cost, the Canucks have trade chips in Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher that the Sabres could be interested in. Virtanen especially, as Ralph Krueger seems to have a knack for finding the right words to motivate his young players. Maybe he can discover the button to get Shotgun Jake running more often at a consistent rate?
Brett Pesce – Carolina Hurricanes
Brett Pesce is an intriguing name, as he fits the Canucks right now, and as a piece of the future core as well. He’s only 25-years-old and is just coming into his own as a defenceman in the NHL. He’s a lot like Tanev too, being a right-hand shot, excellent penalty killer and having experience in the top-four as well. He is an avid shot blocker too, having eclipsed the 100-mark in three of his five seasons in the league.
Pesce is arguably one of the best defensive defencemen in the league, so acquiring him won’t be cheap. Some have mentioned the name Brock Boeser as being the price, so you can tell how expensive he would be when a top-six forward like him is being discussed as the cost. If the Canucks want to improve their blueline, especially on the top pairing, they are going to have to be willing to part with a significant asset. As the saying goes, you have to give something to get something.
I think Pesce would be worth pursuing if the Hurricanes are still interested in parting with him after trading Joel Edmundson to the Montreal Canadiens. He’s exactly the replacement they need to mitigate the hole created by the departure of Tanev.
Option Three: From Within
The Canucks could just replace Tanev from within, but that would be a risky prospect given they only have a few right-hand shots available to them if he leaves. Alternatively, they could also ask one of their left-shot defenders to switch sides, though that is never ideal. Regardless, here are a few players they could use if they don’t find someone via trade or free agency to replace him.
Tyler Myers shuffled between playing with Hughes, Alex Edler and Oscar Fantenberg throughout the season, so it is conceivable to think that he could become a more consistent partner for Hughes next season.
However, Myers’ propensity for defensive blunders and ill-conceived offensive forays may make head coach Travis Green steer clear of that scenario. Most of the time that pairing was put together at the end of a penalty kill or when the Canucks needed to push the pace when they were trailing. So, that probably won’t be considered as a solution by the coaching staff.
I am aware that Olli Juolevi is a left-hand shot, so this would require Hughes to shift to the right side in order for this pairing to happen. With how high his hockey IQ is, changing sides probably won’t be an issue, but it would require a bit of an adjustment on his part. This pairing would be fun to watch as it has all the hallmarks of a top unit, as both of them have a great first pass, are amazing in transition, and think the game at a very high level.
Juolevi may only have gotten into one playoff game in limited minutes, but he looked good in the time he did get. He didn’t stand out like Hughes usually does, but that’s not his game. He plays a very simple, straight forward north-south game which is perfect for a defenceman like Hughes. This pairing might be too soon to think about right now, but it could be a solution down the road.
Jack Rathbone, Jett Woo?
Jack Rathbone would have to switch sides as well, which he probably would be capable of doing given his Hughes-like hockey IQ, but like Juolevi might not be ready for a top-four role just yet. He probably isn’t the ideal partner for Hughes, as he plays the same style as him. One has to play defence, after all.
As for Jett Woo, he could be the perfect partner for Hughes in the future as he’s physical, gritty and plays the right side. He also has a bit of an offensive flair having accumulated 33 goals and 160 points in the Western Hockey League with the Calgary Hitmen and Moose Jaw Warriors. Unless he blows the door down in training camp, he will start the 2020-21 season in the AHL or overseas, depending on the status of the former. Regardless, he has all the tools to succeed as Hughes’ right-hand man.
Which Option Will the Canucks Choose?
If Tanev does not end up re-signing with the only team he’s ever played for, the Canucks have a lot of options to replace him. Ultimately, I think they will go the route of trade to do it. With all the movement they need to do to relieve the pressure of the salary cap, there will be trades made. There are plenty of teams open for business and the two players I outlined were only a taste of the buffet that will be available to them. They also have a few assets they could put up in a deal as well.
It should be an interesting few weeks coming up as the compressed offseason gets going in earnest. Instead of a couple of weeks, free agency happens just a couple of days after the draft, so trades probably will happen very soon. The Canucks may also sign some of their UFAs beforehand as well, which could muddy the waters a bit especially if the names are Toffoli or Markstrom.
The fun hasn’t even begun yet, so let’s get ready to strap in and enjoy the rollercoaster that probably will become an offseason for the ages.
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.