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League-Wide Interest Indicates That the Flames are Better Off Keeping Chris Tanev



Chris Tanev

If you want to get a gain an understanding of the perils of a tear-it-down rebuild in this current era of the National Hockey League, you need look no further than the 2023-2024 Ottawa Senators. 

A slow-cooked approach of attaining high draft picks has the organization rolling out a lineup loaded with first round draft picks. 

Brady Tkachuk – 3rd overall  
Tim Stuetzle – 3rd overall 2020 
Jake Sanderson – 5th overall 2020 
Ridly Greig – 28th overall 2020 
Erik Branstrom – 15th overall 2017 
Thomas Chabot – 18th overall 2015 Jakob Chychrun – 16th overall 2016 
Jacob Bernard Docker – 26th overall 2018 
Josh Norris – 19th overall 2017 
Shane Pinto – 32nd overall 2019 (would qualify as a first round pick a year later when the NHL expanded to 32 teams) 

Playing in AHL Belleville: 

Lassi Thomson – 19th overall 2019 
Tyler Boucher – 10th overall 2021 

The past two years have featured the Senators leveraging their early draft choice in order to pick up key veterans that would cap off a rebuild. Separate deals for sniping winger Alex Debrincat and smooth skating defenceman Jakob Chychrun saw their last two first round picks heading to Chicago and Arizona respectively. Veterans Claude Giroux, Travis Hamonic, and Vladimir Tarasenko were brought in to insulate the young core, and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was signed as a number one for the next five seasons last July.   

A patient rebuild involving three top five draft picks and an aggressive push-off into contention. Exactly the approach that a large contingent of Calgary Flames fans are clamoring for.  

Spinning tires

Enter the 2023-2024 regular season. 

An 8-9-0 start through October and November had fans in Ottawa worrying about a bit of a stumble out of the gates.  

Things have only gotten worse since the start of December.  

10-16-2. A coaching change from DJ Smith (11-15-0) to Jaques Martin (4-8-0) seemingly hasn’t been the refresh that newly hired general manager Steve Staios expected. Joonas Korpisalo has four more seasons at a cap hit of $4,000,000 and has the worst goals saved above expected mark in the NHL at -14.5 over 31 games. Backup Anton Forsberg is sixth worst in GSaX at -7.9 in 16. Stats courtesy of Money Puck. 

Not great.  

With 38 points in 45 games at the All Star break, it’s fair to say that the Senators will be likely punting this season and will take a fresh start in October, 2024. 

Despite a core featuring nine first round picks and a world of hype behind said players, newly hired general manager Steve Staios preached patience during a Jan. 5 interview on the Jason Gregor Show on the radio network, Sports 1440: 

“The other element is that in a Canadian market and some of the bold statements that were made about this group prior to me coming on. They raised the expectations and when you have high character players like I feel we do, you almost extend yourself even further.” 

So, where do the Flames fall into the equation?

Chris Tanev

Craig Conroy’s Calgary Flames were once again a topic of note during NHL insider Elliotte Friedman’s Saturday Headlines segment over the weekend. Ron McLean set this one up by breaching the topic of Staios and his efforts to improve the Senators.  

McLean: “One thing that happened this week Steve Staios had a tremendous press conference Thursday morning and he talked about seeking pros. So, what is he seeking?”  

Friedman: “Well, there is one pro whose name came across my desk in the last 24 to 48 hours, and that’s Chris Tanev of the Calgary Flames, and it makes a lot of sense, a lot of sense. Like when you talk about pros in the NHL, Tanev is one of the top names you come up with, and he makes perfect sense to be on Ottawa’s radar, and he is.” 

This news comes on the tail of other rumored organizations pursuing a Chris Tanev acquisition.  

Most notably, the Toronto Maple Leafs were confirmed in early December to be trying to acquire both Tanev and fellow defenceman Nikita Zadorov prior to the Vancouver Canucks swinging a trade for the big Russian.  

Former Flames general manager Brad Treliving was noted to be still working on a Tanev acquisition following Zadorov’s departure. Per Friedman in a Dec. 4 edition of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast: 

“Now, Tanev. I do think Toronto will continue to try Tanev.” 

Friedman followed up those thoughts in a Dec. 8 edition. 

“My prediction is this: as long as there is the opportunity to get Tanev, I think he’s their number one choice. Treliving knows him, he’s signed him, he knows him better than anyone else who is out there.”  

The Stalwart 

Fans in Calgary are all too familiar with what Chris Tanev brings to the ice.

Calgary’s perennial rock. The Flames have been through three head coaches since the Toronto, Ontario native signed on as a free agent during the 2020 offseason.  

Geoff Ward, Darryl Sutter, and Ryan Huska.  

All three identified Chris as a mentor for up-and-coming defencemen. Whether it’s Oliver Kylington, Dennis Gilbert, or Ilya Solovyov; if a Flames defenceman is going to cut his teeth in the NHL, he will be best served on a pairing with Chris.  

Taking this notion to an extreme, Dennis Gilbert had one of the more interesting statistical games on Nov. 17 of last season.

Struggling to make an impact after his first two appearances with the Flames, Darryl Sutter slotted Gilbert onto Chris Tanev’s pairing prior to playing the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With the help of the veteran defender and some choice deployments from Darryl, Gilbert ended the night 22-0 in even strength shot attempts for and against. A virtually unheard-of perfect 100 CF%, 10-0 in shots, and even a couple shots on net of his own.

This season, Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev have the lowest expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.22) on the team among pairings playing 200 minutes or more together. The pairing has become Huska’s go-to shutdown deployment when the game is on the line. The two rank first and second on the team in defensive zone starts with a combined 145. 

Meat & potatoes

What goes beyond tangible statistics is Chris’ willingness to sacrifice himself for the success of the team. Ryan Huska spoke on Tanev’s unique character following the 34-year-old exiting a game after blocking a shot with his face in late November.  

“You wish that everybody has what he has,” Huska told reporters. “He’s got a different level of courage that if you can give a little bit of what he’s got to other guys on your team, oh man. He’s a pretty special person.” 

Tanev’s shot block preceded a dramatic overtime comeback victory over the Golden Knights courtesy of a Mackenzie Weegar coast-to-coast game winner. Possibly Calgary’s most electric night of hockey in 2023-2024.  

Chris’ teammates also don’t see the logic in moving out a player of his calibre for futures.

“If there’s anyone who should be untouchable it’s Chris Tanev, in my opinion,” Said fellow defenceman Rasmus Anderson in early December. “You guys have no clue. You guys see 50% of it on the ice. Off the ice, he’s just a great human being, he does everything for his teammates.”

Tanev himself is surely aware of the amount of speculation circulating following Friedman’s report. “When we win games and are playing well it sort of dies down, but two weeks ago it was insane.”

“It’s just something you have to learn to deal with.”

The timing 

There is a chance that Ottawa’s interest centers around signing the 34-year-old as an unrestricted free agent on July 1. That way Ottawa doesn’t have to give up assets to acquire the 6-foot-2, 193 stay-at-home defenceman.

Possibly, but when was the last time you have heard of a team expressing interest in signing a future UFA in January? The notion draws into dark waters. We can only assume that Staios is looking into a trade with the intention of bringing Tanev in this season as a veteran influence on the young core. While the playoffs aren’t on the menu, there are still 37 games that the group could be using to learn how to perpetuate success.

Steve gave a bit of insight into his approach to pivoting into a winning culture during the previously mentioned interview: 

“The market often dictates things in certain areas to be able to move this thing in the right direction. We’ll be out (looking), and we’re being aggressive to try to identify those areas.”

“Regardless of where you think your team is, I think (the deadline) is an important time to try to take advantage of certain situations, if they’re there. To try to force something into your team or to try something rash has never been what we’ve set out to do here.” 

With his team ranking 30th in goals against per game at 3.67, defence is likely one of the aforementioned “certain areas.”  

The average age of the Senators most recent blue line lineup, a 7-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Jan. 27, was 24.5.  

For comparison, the best defence in the league is currently the Winnipeg Jets at 2.30 goals against per game. Their current roster has a defenceman over 30 years of age on every pairing. The youngest defender on the roster is Dylan Samberg at 25.  

To put it lightly, the Senators need a veteran or two to help their younger blue line along. Two or three even. Travis Hamonic is currently the only Ottawa defender over 30 years old (33) and is battling injury issues this season. The former Calgary Flame took three games off prior to the All Star break.  

The fit is certainly there.  Rasmus Andersson spoke to Tanev’s influence on his teammates following a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 7.

“But his defensive zone work is not just blocking shots, but making the first pass, getting out with it, he’s first out on the penalty kill and is always in the right spot.”

“I look at him on the PK and I’m like, ‘what do I need to do better?’ I just watch him.”

If the Flames permitted Tanev’s agent, Wade Arnott, to negotiate an extension for the heart-and-soul defender, the return could get even more loaded with futures. 

The trade potential 

Ottawa and Toronto are just two of many teams lining up to bid for the veteran defenceman. On Jan. 29, Frank Serravalli listed the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks as other organizations that would be deemed as potential suitors. 

Also around the league is Boston, who is having issues defending off the rush, and New Jersey, who have been rumored to be seeking a defenceman ever since Dougie Hamilton went on long term injury reserve. 

The value 

Things get a bit tricky in that department. You could use Nikita Zadorov’s return, a third and a fifth. You could try Joel Edmundson’s third and a seventh with the later paying for 50% retention. The problem is that Chris Tanev is the best player available at what he does. Top-of-the-market players generally ignore precedent within reason and sell at their own premium.  

Perhaps it’s Matthias Ekholm’s return of Reid Schaefer (32nd overall in 2022), a 2023 first round pick, a 2023 fourth round pick, and Tyson Barrie for cap and roster space. Maybe it’s Luke Schenn for a 2023 third.  

Odds are solid that a first round pick is involved.  

Friedman pointed out that a Maple Leafs first round pick was in play on Dec. 8, and that the trade would require retention on Calgary’s end.

If a first round pick was the offer in December and more and more teams line up to make an offer – the current bid may be a first and a second round pick or a first round pick and a younger depth NHL player

Mistake waiting to happen?

But should the Calgary Flames make a trade that ships out a player of that quality?  

Staios isn’t an outlier in his opinion that Tanev is a building block for a team fostering a winning culture. The sheer amount of calls Conroy is taking on the pending UFA indicates that perhaps the organization should simply re-sign Chris.  

Let’s use Radko Gudas’ offseason deal with Anaheim as a direct industry comparable.  

While Flames faithful may bristle at the idea of a three-year, $12,000,000 contract, it’s important to remember that Tanev has a consistent history of elevating the play of his defence partner.  

Extending Oliver Kylington for another two seasons at $2,500,000 per year would effectively result in a fully adequate second pairing costing only $6,500,000 per season. That’s around $3,500,000 in cap savings per season compared to any given second pairing paying two defenceman around $5,000,000 each.  

Using the cap space saved from that kind of arrangement could net more picks and prospects than a Chris Tanev rental might.  

The cherry on top is that they get to keep Chris Tanev around to take the next generation under his wing.