This offseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins obtained 27-year-old left winger Brandon Tanev during the NHL’s free-agent signing. The Penguins agreed to a six-year deal with Tanev worth nearly $21 million; which, turns out to be the longest free-agent contract the Penguins have ever had (according to ‘Penguins Sign ‘Fast and Tenacious’ Winger Brandon Tanev’ – TribLive – 7/1/19).
Tanev’s deal has caused significant controversy among Penguins fans, as the deal spends an absurd amount of money on someone who general manager Jim Rutherford once called a “late bloomer.” At almost 30 years old, Tanev has played four seasons for the Winnipeg Jets and has tallied 51 points, 29 of which were from the 2018-19 season. The left winger’s slow start and low offensive numbers gave him a reputation as one of the worst players in the NHL, attributed mainly to his second season as a forward with the Jets in 2016-17 when he only scored four points in 51 games.
Tanev’s deal has left little wiggle room under the salary cap, with 20 players under contract, and his uncertain place with the Penguins could be a huge risk. However, it’s possible that his time in the NHL and his unique playing style may help the Penguins have a better season.
Speed and Size
Standing at a sturdy 6-feet and 180 pounds, Tanev’s size should work against him in terms of speed, but actually, speed is one of his strengths. He has the ability to make his opponents chase after him while leaving a trail of ice in their path; he protects the puck tremendously well when it’s in his possession; and he rushes to regain control with haste.
These skills have been missing since the Penguins traded Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings in 2018. The team seemed to focus more on strategy and rushing the net, but after Hagelin’s exit, they frequently failed to maintain control of the puck and often fail to regain control. Tanev’s style is comparable to Hagelin’s and he could bring speed back to the Penguins. He also plays a physical game that could help the team control the puck while adding a level of grittiness to the offense.
Aggression and Defensive Drive
In addition to Tanev’s size and speed, he is also aggressive. He ranked third in hits in the NHL in 2018-19 with 278, just behind Ryan Reeves from the Las Vegas Knights, and Lawson Crouse from the Arizona Coyotes.
The Penguins tend to focus on quickness and offense during the season, but adding some aggressiveness to the third or fourth line would make the team far more dynamic. If not, his physical presence will help the team stand against some of the more aggressive teams and long-term rivals.
Along with his many hits, he also blocked 81 shots last season, making him a defense-minded forward. Tanev’s speed would liven up the Penguins’ momentum, but his grit will help the team develop more intensity.
A Risky Investment
His addition does cause some concern. Considering the length of his contract there’s a lot of risks that come with Tanev. First, what if he doesn’t deliver the way Rutherford intended? The six-year contract that hands out nearly $5.3 million annually could be a burden to the team financially. Also, his recent down performance could dip and his presence would dampen the rest of the offense.
Of course, there will be a period of adjustment for the Penguins and for Tanev. After spending four seasons with the same club he will need to learn more about the Pens’ style and how to play alongside some of the bigger stars in the NHL.
However, looking solely at his recent development and his skills, he could add versatility. His speed could help improve the performances of some older players and his diversified style could help inspire younger players to play with more aggression.
Rutherford’s confidence in Tanev will be tested this season and many seasons to come, but he might elevate the Penguins to a whole new level.