Penguins Find a Keeper in Tanev

When Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford signed Brandon Tanev this past summer for $3.5 million, that was not a total surprise. Depth players like Tanev are starting to get larger dollar amounts with the NHL salary cap continuing to rise. The parts of the signing that made people double take was the six-year term and a modified no-trade clause. 

Six years is a long time in hockey. Almost every team has a completely overhauled roster compared to what they looked like in 2014. The guys that stick around long term for teams are the players that are all-stars and have possible Hall of Fame potential. Not a jab at Tanev, but he isn’t a player that screams ‘future Hall of Famer’. 

Pittsburgh Penguins Brandon Tanev
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Brandon Tanev (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Sidney Crosby and Tanev are the only forwards on the Penguins that have deals into the 2024-25 season. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang’s contracts both expire in 2021-22.  

It was a deal that had many people scratching their heads. The question with this deal is if Tanev is: worth the money and six years?

Clutch Performances

Tanev has shown to be well worth every dollar so far this season. On pace for career highs in both goals and assists, he has also been a clutch performer for the team putting up four game-winning goals, with two of them coming in overtime. Before he signed on to become a Penguin, he played 195 career games and only had two game-winning goals.

Showing up in clutch scenarios is becoming a part of Tanev’s game that he’s never had before. Getting a spot in overtime over someone like Alex Galchenyuk goes to show what kind of faith head coach Mike Sullivan is putting into Tanev. 

Getting Comfortable in Pittsburgh

While high-scoring numbers are not exactly what Tanev is known for, his quickness and knack for finding the net make him useful with any line combination. However, he has found a home playing alongside Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger; a line that Sullivan doesn’t seem to be splitting up anytime soon. (from ‘‘Teddy’s line’ has been Penguins’ most consistent trio,’ Trib Live, 01/22/2020)

Vegas Golden Knights Pittsburgh Penguins
Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury, Jon Merrill and Nick Holden scramble for the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins’ Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese watch. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

In a season for the Penguins that has been overflowing with injuries, Tanev has been consistent, being one of five Penguins to have not missed a game. He is joined by linemates Aston-Reese and Blueger, as well as Dominik Simon and Marcus Pettersson as the iron men this season, playing in all 51 games. Tanev also leads that group in goals and points. 

Getting in the Dirty Areas

Playing physical is another part of the game that Tanev does not shy away from. He racked up 278 hits in the 2018-19 campaign and finished third in the league. As of Feb. 2, he is again in third with 192, trailing Vegas Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves with 226 and Ottawa Senators’ Brady Tkachuk with 208. 

It isn’t this season, or even the next that might be an issue with Tanev. It’s the last half of the deal that might draw concern. Tanev will be 33 when his deal with Pittsburgh is over, and only time will tell if he can still be a worthwhile player by then. 

Rutherford’s Deal Making

Rutherford isn’t exactly known for handing out long-term deals to players, either, making Tanev’s six years a little more shocking. Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist, and Pettersson were all signed by Rutherford for five years.

Brandon Tanev Pittsburgh Penguins
Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

CapFriendly has a contract comparable feature where you can see how players’ contracts stack up against each other. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Yanni Gourde is a 76.7% match to Tanev. Both men signed a six-year deal that started this season and have no-trade clauses. Gourde is making $5.16 million to Tanev’s $3.5, but is producing at a pretty similar rate. Tanev has recorded 23 points to Gourde’s 19; both playing 52 games.

Tanev is in the midst of a breakout year and one that is promising for the rest of his time in Pittsburgh. If Rutherford really wants to prove that he made the right move with Tanev, then the production and solid play can’t take a dip. Depth forwards aren’t the kind of players you sign to the longest deals on your team. Having a modified no-trade clause stapled to the term can also cause issues. If Tanev’s production shortens out, there’s only a handful of teams he’ll be able to be moved to. 

The cap hit for Tanev isn’t terrible for a guy like him. In the coming years depending on how much the cap rises, $3 million might be pretty average for a bottom-six player. It truly is the term that might play a factor in this deal.

Tanev has quickly become a fan favorite and many love the style of play he brings. As long as the play doesn’t decline, he will be well worth it and a fun player to watch.