The Calgary Flames have had a very busy October. It started with them trading draft picks on two separate occasions at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, as well as selecting seven players total. Next came free agency, where they made a huge splash signing highly sought-after goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who had been the Vancouver Canucks starting netminder for a number of seasons.
Related: Flames’ Top 5 Draft Picks Since 2010
The other notable signing they made was another former Canuck in defenceman Chris Tanev. They were able to agree with the Toronto, Ontario native on a four-year deal with an average annual value of $4.5 million.
While he has been a very solid NHL defenceman for quite some time, there are a number of reasons the Canucks didn’t offer him the money the Flames did, and it makes this an extremely risky signing for general manager Brad Treliving.
Injury Troubled Past
Tanev was considered the Canucks’ best shutdown defenceman when he was in the lineup. Unfortunately, that wasn’t all that often, as he missed a lot of time over his career due to various injuries. While he was able to play in all of the Canucks’ 69 games this past season, he was hurt during what turned out to be the final game of the regular season due to COVID-19, and was considered week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
Still, the 69 games were the most Tanev had played in since the 2015-16 season, where he matched that exact total. That is the second-highest total he has ever played in a single season, as his career high is 70 which came during 2014-15. He has played over 60 games just four times since becoming an NHL regular eight seasons ago, although his rookie year came during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.
While this past season was somewhat of a step in the right direction, he was limited to just 150 of a possible 246 games over the three seasons prior. Tanev’s injury history was well documented during his time as a Canuck, and although not his fault, was extremely frustrating for fans of the team.
The reasoning behind his injuries is generally due to his rugged style of play, which includes both making and taking hits, as well as his willingness to block as many shots on the penalty kill as possible. Given that he has played this style his entire NHL career, it is extremely unlikely it changes now.
Tanev has been a very good defensive player since coming into the NHL, but his offensive game leaves plenty to be desired. His 20 points this past season tied his career high that was set during the 2014-15 season, while his career high in goals is six which he had in 2013-14.
Considering what the Flames’ back end looks like currently, a defenceman who puts up bigger offensive numbers was likely more needed for this team. Given that T.J. Brodie signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and team captain Mark Giordano is 37 years old, it doesn’t seem likely that the Flames will produce many points from the back end in the 2020-21 season.
They will have the highly talented Juuso Valimaki back after he missed all of the 2019-20 season with an ACL injury, but he is only 22 years old and has appeared in just 24 career games to this point. Though they do expect him to be great, it will be tough to rely on him for this upcoming season, as it is simply asking too much from a rookie defenceman.
The final reason Tanev seems like a risky signing is due to his age. As everyone knows, signing free agents above the age of 30 can often turn into a disaster for teams, and he turns 31 in just over two months’ time. There are certain players who are able to continue to play as good or even better than they did during their twenties, but it isn’t common. Considering the injuries Tanev has already faced, one has to wonder if they will begin to have an effect on his play over the next few years.
Similar & Familiar Player Available
While some may dispute this, it seems interesting that the Flames elected to go with Tanev than a more familiar face in Travis Hamonic. Hamonic has been with the Flames for the past three seasons after he was acquired in a trade with the New York Islanders. On top of being a year younger, he plays a very similar style of game to Tanev.
He is a very solid player in his own end and can kill penalties. He also blocks his fair bit of shots, which has also resulted in some injury troubles over the years, though he hasn’t had nearly as bad of luck as Tanev. Offensively, he appears to be the superior of the two, if only slightly. He set a career-high 33 points during the 2014-15 season with the Islanders, but has failed to hit 30 in any other season.
Related: Flames’ 50-Goal Scorers
It would be interesting to know what made Treliving elect to go with Tanev rather than Hamonic. Perhaps Hamonic did not want to sign in Calgary, though that seems unlikely considering how badly he wanted to play for a Western Canadian team just a few years ago. It also could simply be that they believe Tanev is the better of the two. Of course, they still could re-sign Hamonic as they currently have $5.7 million in cap space, but it seems if both parties were interested in a deal it would have happened already.
Too Early to Judge
Clearly, there are some potential issues with signing Tanev, but the fact is, when healthy, he is a very solid top-four defenceman in the NHL. The hope is that his play doesn’t take a sudden dive over the next few seasons and he is able to continue to play up to his contract. However, if he isn’t, his cap hit could become a problem, though we will have to wait and see. Perhaps we will look back on this and say Treliving made the right call, but as of right now it seems questionable at best.