When healthy, Chris Tanev is a premier shutdown defenceman in the league; a defender who excels at shot suppression whilst also being able to effectively transition the puck up the ice.
Unfortunately, it’s the first part of that assertion that presents the stipulation with Tanev— the fact that his impact is always health dependent. Tanev’s bout with injuries continued this past week with the 28-year-old expected to miss two weeks with a knee ailment— the third time this season he’s been sidelined.
At this rate, Tanev will be in tough to crack 60 games this season after missing 29 games last year.
This is where the dilemma begins. It might seem obvious for a rebuilding team like the Canucks to shop an injury-prone 28-year-old defenceman, but how high is Tanev’s value around the league?
Not only are there health concerns attached, but I wonder if NHL executives truly value shot suppression defensemen the way they should. Think about how many years it took Marc-Edouard Vlasic to establish himself as a top-tier defender.
It’s possible that other teams see Tanev as a middling, injury-prone top-four defender who offers little in the way of offence or physicality. Trading him now would likely mean moving him for pennies on the dollar— something that the Canucks won’t and shouldn’t do.
The other option of keeping Tanev has its own risks attached as well. How much of a contributor will Tanev be when the Canucks are ready to compete again?
When does Tanev’s wearing body start to affect his on-ice performance? Natural age-related decline compounded with mounting injuries could lead to a significant drop off in Tanev’s on-ice performance over time.
These are the same issues that 31-year-old Alex Edler is having to deal with right now.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that Tanev has just two years left on his deal after this season.
You don’t want to move Tanev for a mediocre package, but can the Canucks let a valuable asset depreciate when they’re still in the hunt for picks and prospects?
Confusion Over Direction of the Canucks
As someone who isn’t a particular fan of Jim Benning’s work as GM, what concerns me most is the lack of clear direction that this management team has shown.
Benning has done well since last year’s trade deadline where he acquired Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin. The issue with Benning, however, is the body of work he accumulated in the three years prior when he tried retooling the team whilst staying competitive.
You’d think that after all that, Benning would flip the page and commit to a full rebuild, right? I guess not.
Benning on the direction going forward: "It will be trying to be competitive. Our goal is to win games, be competitive and make the playoffs." #Canucks— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) February 14, 2018
The premise of Benning’s plan of building through the draft whilst retaining a competitive team environment sounds great in theory but is tough to execute practically. Look no further than the team’s overall record since Benning took over the team for validation.
All this is to say that management needs to move on from this notion of retooling. While Benning’s most recent work indicates that he has indeed shifted his focus to a rebuild, the rhetoric from Wednesday’s press conference isn’t nearly as encouraging.
Brock Boeser is undoubtedly the best Canuck right now, but talk about the most important player, and Bo Horvat is the name that comes to my mind.
The Canucks rely on the 22-year-old to centre the top line, play on the top power-play unit, and be one of the team’s leading penalty killers. While it’s fair to wonder if he’s being asked to do too much, the fact remains that the team is reliant on Horvat to be a key contributor in nearly every facet of the game.
Taking Horvat out of the equation leaves the Canucks with zero top-six centres. Think back to Horvat’s injury and how the Sedins were playing top-line minutes again, how Sam Gagner was asked to centre the 2nd line, and how Nic Dowd was playing 14-17 minutes a night. Brandon Sutter’s injury was also a factor, but that likely wouldn’t have changed things for the Sedins and Gagner.
The foundation of the Canucks’ forward group collapses without Horvat.
It’s no surprise then that the team is 18-17-4 this season with Horvat, and 4-12-2 without him.
A 2018 Prospect To Watch: Ryan Merkley
Jim Benning had his eyes on filling one of two needs at last summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
Benning: "We are going to pick the best player. It would be nice if that player was a playmaking center or a powerplay defenseman."#Canucks— Canucks Mobile (@CanucksMobile) June 23, 2017
While the former looks to have been achieved with the selection of Elias Pettersson, the Canucks are still on the hunt for an offensive defenceman— preferably a right shot at that.
Enter Ryan Merkley. As one of the youngest draft-eligible players, Merkley has posted 56 points in 50 games after a 55 point campaign last season for a poor Guelph Storms team.
What stands out with Merkley is his elite offensive toolkit. Merkley has a tantalizing combination of excellent speed, impeccable edgework, elite playmaking ability, and supreme puck-handling.
What’s the issue then? Well for one Merkley is undersized at just 5’11 and 165 pounds. The more glaring issue though is his defensive zone play with regards to positioning and decision making.
Industry opinion on Merkley differs wildly— some view him as a legit top 10 talent, while others have him going in the back half of the first round.
Merkley’s incredible offensive toolkit may make him an attractive consolation prize for the Canucks if they miss out on Dahlin, Boqvist, and Hughes.