The Penguins are about to lose one right handed defenseman in free agency in a little more than two weeks when Justin Schultz hits the open market. Accordingly, they will need a replacement. Chad Ruhwedel is nice as a depth player, but probably not a championship-caliber top six option.
Pittsburgh has also cleared some salary space and figures to be active in free agency. While their third line forward group still has more questions than answers, the same could be said about their third pair defense as well. Per Josh Yohe and Rob Rossi at The Athletic, an answer could come in the form of free-agent-to-be from Vancouver, Chris Tanev.
Adding a right-handed shot defenseman is a priority for the Penguins, and Rutherford is expected to try clearing enough cap space to pursue Christopher Tanev on the open market, multiple team and league sources said.
After adding brother Brandon Tanev to an excessively long and expensive contract last summer, if this report pans out, the Pens may be about to do the same thing for another Tanev brother.
The Athletic mentions that Chris Tanev is “seeking a raise” on his previous salary of $4.45 million annual average value that he completed, but that the Pens “preference is to keep his cap hit from exceeding $5 million”. C. Tanev will turn 31 years old on December 20th (probably at/around the start of next season) so this contract will likely take up the majority of his 30’s, which as we’ve seen time and time again is usually not very friendly to defensive defensemen as their modest skating and puck-handling skills erode away with age and usage.
And, in fact, The Athletic says “Rutherford is not averse to extending [Chris] Tanev an offer that would run concurrent with the final five years of Brandon Tanev’s contract”, which should be flashing big, red, flashing DANGER signs to commit to age 31-36 to a defensive defenseman. Especially when the money will be significant amount as well.
To put it mildly, Tanev isn’t likely to be a positively impactful player for very long, and probably wouldn’t live up to an expensive contract that carries him deep into his 30’s and places too much expectation or need out of him. (Sound like any other defensemen contracts of the last decade like Rob Scuderi or Jack Johnson?)
As usual with Penguin free agent blunders that are 100% avoidable, the natural comparison to what will be a cheaper and more effective option is on the table as well with impending free-agent like Dylan DeMelo also on the market.
The one aspect Tanev has going for him, is at least he can justifiably be called a legitimate second pair player at the time of the signing. He played 19:32 per game for the Canucks last season to rank fourth among blueliners on the team. Tanev is tough as nails, blocks a ton of shots and is right handed. He also tied a career-high in assists last season (18) playing on a pair with talented rookie Quinn Hughes. All nice attributes to have.
Tanev isn’t necessarily a bad player, but the nuance is still not wanting to jump in bed for the age 31-36 years to a defender who chews up a lot of pucks and isn’t necessarily known to skate well or move the puck as a calling card.
Chris Tanev historically has been a very good defender that offers absolutely nothing to the offensive side of the game. This past season was his worst on the defensive side though. At 30, it’s reasonable to wonder if that’s the start of the decline rather than an outlier. pic.twitter.com/ArtTKqvitV— geoff (@G_Off817) September 22, 2020
Still, this wouldn’t be a Jack Johnson situation where the Pens are lavishing a long-term and rich contract on a player who slumped to be a healthy scratch, or a Scuderi situation where the team is signing the player with the romanticized notion of what he was and not seeing what he is.
But unless the team plans to buyout or trade Johnson, it makes even less sense to give Tanev a $4.5-5.0 million contract. Tanev isn’t good enough to prop up a bad player like Johnson and would just get bogged down and the chance to block more shots and be on the ice for more goals against in such a role.
The Penguins are supposedly on a budget, so spending a premium on a player who isn’t going to move the needle a whole lot doesn’t make the most sense. Then again, as we’ve seen from the Johnson and Brandon Tanev signings, when this manager wants a player he often doesn’t seemed to concerned about the details surrounding what it takes for term or money to make it happen.
Pittsburgh should probably shop for relative bargains like Dylan DeMelo, not older and more expensive players like Chris Tanev. Whether or not they actually show some restraint and smarts on free agency day though remains to be seen.