By Ben Kuzma September 15, 2016
Shot suppression is Chris Tanev. Shot generation is not.
An enviable combination of skating, smarts, timing and fearlessness has allowed the Vancouver Canucks’ defensive defenceman to log big minutes, shut down top lines and draw league-wide acclaim.
It also made him the subject of off-season trade rumours because who wouldn’t want a durable, dutiful and low-maintenance rearguard who plays hard? Who wouldn’t woo GM Jim Benning and offer scoring help to spring the 26-year-old Tanev, who’s a bargain with four more years at a US $4.45-million annual salary cap hit?
“I didn’t really hear about it (rumour), but my brother followed it,” Tanev said Thursday following an informal skate at Rogers Arena. “I got a call from Jim Benning one day to just reassure me that they (Canucks) want me and all that stuff wasn’t true. That was definitely reassuring.”
All the speculation and clarification is understandable.
Tanev not only led the Canucks with 166 blocked shots last season to rank 16th in the NHL, he fell in front of the hardest shots at that toughest times. The Canucks were clinging to a 2-1 lead against Tampa Bay on Dec. 22, when he dropped in front of a heavy Steven Stamkos slapper. Tanev hobbled off the ice with a deep bruise on his right foot. Ironically, he had discarded a shot-blocker on that skate because he was repeatedly tripping over it. Regardless, Tanev would miss just two games.
“That’s what I grew up doing,” shrugged the undrafted Tanev. “I don’t want to give up opportunities where our goalies have to make tough saves. I don’t know too much about all the analytics, but I know when Eagle (Alex Edler) and I are out there, we’re just trying to get pucks out of our zone quickly.”
Tanev also excelled in his first world hockey championship experience in May at Moscow. He paired with the Leafs’ Morgan Reilly to log major minutes and it was the go-to tandem to lock down a gold medal for Team Canada. Regarded as the best defenceman in the tourney, Tanev logged 21:38 against Finland in the final, including 8:37 in the third period. He was not on the ice for a single even-strength goal against in the entire event.
“Going into it, I didn’t know how it would go,” admitted Tanev. “I definitely had the time of my life and met a lot of good guys and, most importantly, we won.”
Imagine if Tanev can add an offensive element this season?
The Canucks generated just 23 goals from the back end in 2015-16, fifth lowest in the league, and six of those came from the departed Matt Bartkowski. Tanev scored four times and has never had more than six in any season, and the fact he has trouble getting shots away — and also finding the net — was his summer focus. His 42 shots in 69 games last season were the lowest on the club of anyone who played more than half the season. And it wasn’t just defencemen.
The Canucks ranked 28th with 28.2 shots per game, and that had a lot to do with icing the league’s worst face-off percentage to go with a 29th-ranked offence and 27th-rated power play in missing the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons.
Tanev believes “getting it” offensively starts with play in his own zone. He says Erik Gudbranson will add a needed defensive presence and that Ben Hutton should be the beneficiary to pick up where he left off in his rookie campaign, placing second in assists (24) among first-year blue-liners.
“We were hung up in our own end and weren’t breaking out with the puck,” said Tanev. “People don’t realize how well Gudbranson moves and how smart he is, and that’s going to help us out tremendously.
“I worked on my shot a lot, but as a whole we need to be up in the play more. We had a lot of shots blocked or didn’t even get them on the net. I’ve been working more on my mechanics. You just don’t want to shoot pucks aimlessly with no goal in mind. When you work on mechanics, you can see when you do it (release) properly and when you don’t. It gives you a good mindset.
“So many guys are blocking shots and you sometimes have to get it through three layers of players. You have to have your head up all the time and find the little open areas and get pucks off quicker than we did last year.”