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2019-20 Season in Review: Brandon Tanev

The Pens’ high energy free agent signing lived up to billing this season when it came to bringing the noise and shutting down opponents

NHL: JAN 07 Penguins at Golden Knights Photo by: Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Player: Brandon Tanev

Born: December 31, 1991 (28 years old)

Height: 6 foot

Weight: 180 pounds

Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario (Canada)

Shoots: Left

Draft: undrafted, signed as a free agent by the Winnipeg Jets in March 2016

2019-20 Statistics: 68 games played, 11 goals, 14 assists, 25 points

Contract Status: Dreadfully, as it probably needs no reminder, Tanev still five more seasons remaining on his $3.5 million per year contract. A princely sum for a 14 minute per game player.

Looking back

Our Jets’ blog Arctic Ice Hockey didn’t give Tanev a grade for his 2018-19 season, but in their season review did say:

A couple seasons ago, he was one of the worst forwards in the league. Now he is not one of the worst forwards in the league, but it still might benefit the Jets if they let him walk during free agency...he is now an average forward on the Jets which means he is no longer a liability. Furthermore, he has scored over ten goals this year and is no longer a black hole of offence. That combined with his speed means that he was an asset to the Jets this past season

A lot of that rings through for what Tanev brought to Pittsburgh, continuing to play a fast and strong season for the Pens in a fourth line role.

Regular Season History & 2019-20 Season

—As Arctic Ice Hockey said, you can see Tanev’s increase from a sub-replacement level player into a decent contributor. If this was a full season, Tanev was on pace for 13 goals and 16 assists, right in line with what he did in his final year with Winnipeg.

For all the dreams and wishes that Tanev might be able to play a bigger role, he basically is what he is at age 28. A hard-working grinder that well throw his body around with reckless abandon (his 244 hits led the team — by a country mile — and was fourth in the league among forwards) and he was more than willing to sacrifice with his forward-team-high 65 blocked shots (10th best in the league among forwards).

What Tanev isn’t is a particularly skill-sy player. He only scored six goals in 68 games this season at 5v5, and only added two primary assists at 5v5. But, credit to him, he also scored two overtime goals and two shorthanded goals — in formats where his speed could be leveraged with more open ice.

Perhaps even worse, Tanev only took 98 total shots on goal in 2019-20 (and just 78 in 68 games at 5v5). That’s down from 127 shots last year in Winnipeg. He did get to play 12 more games last season, but his shots were still going to be down. Tanev doesn’t have the best finishing ability, and he’s been unable to generate a lot of quantity of shots, a trend that naturally only continues as a player ages. That could be something to consider in the future since without luck it could be a challenge to get back to double-digit goal scoring seasons if he continues to struggle to put a lot of shots on net.

Advanced Stats in the 2019-20 Season

(Ranks are out of the 14 highest TOI forwards this season on the team who played 200 minutes in the regular season at 5v5, per Natural Stat Trick)

Corsi For%: 50.2% (10th)
Goals For%: 44.0% (13th)
xGF%: 49.4% (10th)
Scoring Chance %: 51.3% (6th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 51.2% (5th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 6.1% (14th)
On-ice save%: .924% (5th)

—Tanev only started in the offensive-zone 28% of the time, similar to his “buzzsaw” brethren of Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese. This ended up being a huge advantage for the team, since every other regular forward got to start 55%+ in the offensive zone, due to the buzzsaw taking a huge d-zone responsibility.

—Considering the zone start disadvantage, Tanev (and his linemates) did and excellent job to tip the ice back in the Pens’ favor. One concerning bit is all three of them were the worst shooters at 5v5, so their hard work didn’t pay off. Once they got chances, they didn’t have the hands to finish. And they all benefited from above-average goaltending, which looms large considering they naturally give up chances while starting in the d-zone a lot. Will that be repeatable? It’s a bit out of their hands with goalie performance, and the goalies did perform for them.

Tanev was on ice for 22 GF at 5v5 to 30 GA. He had to carry a heavy defensive burden, but still got outscored. He made up for that with some shorthanded and 3v3 goals.


4 games played: 0 goals, 1 assist

—Interestingly, Tanev’s overall icetime (and 5v5) was down from the small playoff sample to the regular season, only playing 13:35 per game in the postseason. Tanev also only had 2 SOG in the four games, to tie into the earlier point made about difficulties generating shots on a consistent basis.

Monthly Split

via yahoo!

—Tanev ingratiated himself well right from the jump to join his new team with a strong October and November. But while the games played per month was pretty consistent, also consistent was a gradual decrease in point scoring as each month ticked away. Yet his hits and shots were very similar each month, so it’s probably not an effort or big change in what Tanev was doing, just that sometimes his game can translate into points, sometimes not as much.

Charts (via HockeyViz)

Overall Role & General Data

The fourth line carved out incredible consistency, with Tanev basically tied to Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger almost exclusively throughout the whole season. It’s interesting that at about Game 20, Tanev shifted drastically into an offensive role (see the bottom chart) where he played with Jared McCann and Alex Galchenyuk, but it proved to be a very short-term move while the Pens were riddled with injuries.

Otherwise, when the buzzsaw members were healthy, they were mostly together. When Aston-Reese missed the last 12 games of the season, Evan Rodrigues and Sam Lafferty moonlighted with Blueger+Tanev.

Even-Strength Unblocked Shot Locations

Much like Tanev himself being a frenetic high-energy player, his shot chart reflects that, showing an ability to get shots on goal from all over the ice when he was shooting. Whether he was ending up on the left side of the ice in the o-zone, the right or the center, his shot chart doesn’t show any discrimination or special areas he really tried to get shots from. Anywhere worked, just as he worked anywhere on the ice.

5v5 is a tale of suppression

There’s a lot of blue above. That means not a lot of shooting going on when Tanev is on the ice. That pretty much jives with what you think, he’s a grinder that’s working in the corners, trying to stay out of the defensive zone and keep it moving. There wasn’t a lot going on in front of either net with Tanev on the ice, which isn’t the worst thing in the world for a player in a defensive role. And, in fact, that’s probably a good thing since he’s at least helping to suppress the opponent’s offense.

Bottom line

While there’s sort of a narrative and backlash that places like Pensburgh were anti-Tanev last summer at his signing, the way it was reported was more “decent and useful player but shell-shock of a terrible contract” initially as seen here or here. Kinda a “love the sinner not the sin” situation. Capstoned here last summer with:

It’s also pointed out this has been a player who is fast, tough to play against, decent defensively — pretty much all tenets of what the Pens’ thought they were missing and wanted to add. In that regard, it can’t be too shocking this was identified as the type of element the team felt they were missing and looking to add. However, the nuanced question of “how much they had to pay” to get him has sort of drowned out exactly what they may have think they’ve gotten as an improvement.

And by that regard, Tanev did exactly what he was supposed to do. He is a very fast player. He was very tough to play against and was able to handle a tough defensive role and hold his own, and was even better than “decent” defensively, he was stellar. For a $3.5 million cap hit, that’s still a luxury piece, but is was a very useful one in 2019-20. His overtime heroics tipped the scales even more to add value.

Tanev’s speed also went for drawing 14 penalties, a team high. But that was only tied-47th in the league, so while noticeable , it wasn’t big time high-end, though certainly a deep cut of adding more value for the team to help generate power plays.

Ideal 2020-21

Tanev needs to keep on carrying on. He’s an honest player and very good at what he does. That means playing hard every shift of every game, throwing checks, digging out pucks, tipping the ice from defense to offense. Blocking shots and eating minutes on the PK. Tanev does a lot of the dirty work, and he will have to keep going in that. Many times he got roughed up or caught a puck and seemed to get hurt but shook it off. It’s a tough role to play, but he does it well.

Fortunately, about every aspect and micro-ability mentioned above is effort-based. Those are all controllables that with a strong will and determined focus can be counted on. And no one can ever knock Tanev’s effort. He’s going to lace up the skates and go to work every shift of every period. Which is great, you know what you’re going to get from him, and that’s a positive.

Any offense the team gets is a bonus, but odds are Tanev should be back in the 12-15 goal and 26-30 point range again in a perfect year while doing all the little, dirty things that you know he can be counted on to do each and every game. Can’t say that about every player, and that’s certainly admirable.

Question to ponder

Tanev plays a gritty game. He’s a terrific fourth line player. He also will celebrate his 29th birthday on December 31, early on in the 2020-21 season. There aren’t too many players 30+ who can manage to retain the jump, burst and quickness to maintain. Think about it, how many old fourth line energy players are out there? Certainly a few around the league maintain high hits+blocked shots as they age (Matt Martin, Luke Glendening are a couple examples) but generally players in that role peak and age out very quickly. And neither Martin (impending UFA at $2.5m) or Glendening (one more year at $1.8m) have the contract commitment the Pens do with Tanev. How long can Tanev maintain what he has been doing the past two seasons? It’s probably not the five left on his contract.



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