Botchford: Tanev signs, but can’t cash in quite yet
D-man signs one-year, $2M bargain-basement deal, as Canucks have the leverage for three more years
Chris Tanev got his new contract but still isn’t feeling the love from the Vancouver Canucks.
Vancouver signed Tanev, who established himself as a top-four defenceman last season averaging 20:44 in 64 games, to a bargain-basement $2-million, one-year deal.
The signing came hours before the deadline to file for salary arbitration.
There was a feeling from Tanev’s side that $2 million would be his ceiling in an arbitration award because he’s not a big-time producer in measurable stats like points. But it’s sure nowhere near what the 24-year-old would get on the open market.
The key statistic in arbitration for defensive defencemen, however, is time on ice, and there are two RFA D-men who’ve signed in the past year which are in Tanev’s wheelhouse.
Ottawa’s Jared Cowen, who has played 158 career games to Tanev’s 156, averaged 13 fewer seconds than Tanev this past year and put up 15 points — two fewer than Tanev. And he did it playing against weaker competition and with significantly more offensive zone starts.
The Senators signed Cowen in September to a four-year, $12.4-million contract.
Another comparable is Washington’s Karl Alzner, who averaged 12 fewer seconds and had one more point than Tanev last season.
He just finished the first year of a four-year, $11.2 million, albeit signed last offseason when he had played 100 more games than Tanev has now.
The Canucks never came close to offering those kinds of deals to Tanev.
It’s the same thing that happened last summer when Tanev agreed to a one-year, $1.5-million deal.
There are a couple of reasons there is frustration from the player’s side that a legitimate multi-year offer has never been tabled from the Canucks.
One is because Tanev remains three years away from unrestricted free-agent status, leaving the Canucks in control of most of the leverage until then.
And two, Tanev wasn’t drafted. He had other options when he signed as an undrafted free agent. He chose the Canucks because they had the most interest. But now, their perception is that the Canucks aren’t confident in Tanev. At least not confident enough to commit financially long-term.
Tanev’s top assets are his consistency and intelligence, colloquially known in the NHL as “hockey sense.”
The Canucks contend it’s difficult to quantify and they told Tanev they want to see a wider body of work, something GM Jim Benning acknowledged when explaining why the team wanted a one-year deal.
“He had a good season last year,” Benning said. “He had a couple of injuries along the way, but he kind of took the next step. He’s still a young player.
“We wanted to see another full season, another body of work this next season.
“If he has another good season, then we’ll try to lock him up long-term.”
As of now, Tanev’s side could pass on that, seemingly determined now to test free agency in three years. But lots can change before then.
Tanev’s signing was announced a day after Zack Kassian agreed to a two-year, $3.5-million deal, wrapping up what was one of the most furious nine days of transactions in Canucks history.
During that span, Benning has obviously initiated a new “get ‘er done” resolve in Vancouver, which earned a plodding, passive reputation under Mike Gillis.
As an example, the Tanev situation this summer is nearly identical to what it was last off-season, but under Gillis he wasn’t signed until Aug. 22. And both negotiations where led by assistant GM Laurence Gilman.
“I don’t know what their approach was before I got here,” Benning said. “I like to try to get things done so we know where we stand, and the players know where they stand, so they can concentrate on getting ready for the season and they don’t have things to worry about.”
The Tanev and Kassian signings leave the Canucks with $2.1 million in cap space and just RFA Linden Vey still to sign. Vey’s qualifying offer was $735,000.
That cap space will bump up to more than $3 million when the Canucks work out the Jacob Markstrom situation. It’s believed Markstrom, who wants to play in the NHL with his $1.2 million cap hit, asked for the Canucks to trade him if they can after the Ryan Miller signing.
The Canucks have explored trades and there is interest from at least three teams.
“That situation could work itself out over the summer,” Benning said. “The teams that are interested may have to move out another guy.
“We’re exploring that for Jacob. But if that doesn’t happen, Jacob comes to camp. He has a good attitude. He understands the situation.
“Look at Minnesota last year. They went through about five goalies.”
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