On Saturday Night, Elliotte Friedman simultaneously lit the flame and poured water on a potential Chris Tanev trade. He confirmed that GMs have been poking and prodding at the Canucks to see if Tanev is available, but, with a wry smile, Friedman said that the price was “very high.”
"There's been a lot of talk about Chris Tanev and the Vancouver Canucks," Friedman said. "The one thing I’ve heard is other GMs who say they’ve reached out to Vancouver have been told this is no guarantee and if Chris Tanev is going anywhere the price is going to be very high for him. He’s got three more years under contract. He’s a good player at a good price. I don’t think Vancouver is looking to do this unless it's a great deal."
Friedman’s words and tone suggested that other GMs have been surprised at the asking price for Tanev. My completely unfounded suspicion is that other GMs are not offering first round picks or blue chip prospects for Tanev, but are instead trying to pry him out of Vancouver with lesser packages.
Frankly, the price for Tanev should be very high. He’s a top-pairing defenceman getting paid under $5 million per year, but more than that, he’s legitimately one of the best defensive defencemen in the entire NHL.
There are a couple different ways to look at Tanev’s defensive impact. I could mention that over the past three seasons, he leads all NHL defencemen in relative fenwick against. I could point out that Tanev is number one on Tyler Dellow’s list of “defensive drivers.” I could further point out that he manages this while regularly matching up against some of the best forwards in the NHL.
This time around, however, I’d like to dip my toes into the Goals Above Replacement pool.
Goals Above Replacement (GAR) was created by Dawson Sprigings. You can find extensive information about how he put together GAR at Hockey-Graphs.com.
Essentially, GAR is an attempt to create a single statistic to measure all NHL players, similar to Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball. GAR indicates what a player is worth in goal-differential above a replacement-level player, ie. a career AHLer that could be called up.
One of the upsides of GAR is that it is split into several segments, so you can see the individual contributions that make a player’s final rating. And, when it comes to defence, Tanev is right near the top, among names like Mattias Ekholm, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jacob Trouba, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and the severely underrated Oscar Klefbom.
Chris Tanev was seventh among all NHL defencemen last season in even-strength defensive GAR, contributing a goal differential of 6.4 above a replacement-level defender. And that was in a season where he missed 29 games. In 2015-16, he was second behind only Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is also criminally underpaid at just $4.1 million.
Hjalmarsson turns out to be one of the closest comparables to Tanev. Like Tanev, Hjalmarsson contributes next to nothing offensively. Hjalmarsson’s offensive GAR was just 0.6, while Tanev’s was -0.6, indicating that he’s actually worse offensively than a replacement-level defender.
I mean, as long as that replacement-level defender isn’t Alex Biega, who is just so very, very bad, you guys.
So that’s what makes it so difficult to ascertain Tanev’s trade value. Taking into account ice time, his overall GAR was 14th among NHL defencemen, so even when you consider his complete lack of offence, he’s still one of the best defencemen in the league. And GAR doesn’t even take into account the penalty kill, as it didn’t prove to be predictive of future performance, but Tanev also happens to be one of the best penalty killers in the league.
Guys like Tanev simply don’t get traded because they are of immense value to their teams, but in a way that is not immediately obvious to outside observers. As a result, the value they bring back in a trade would not be commensurate with their true value on the ice.
The additional issue with trading Tanev is that he’s coming off a poor season when you look at more basic analytical metrics like corsi or fenwick, mainly because he was glued to Luca Sbisa’s hip for most of the season. Then again, if any GMs around the league look at an even more basic level, Tanev was the only Canuck to play more than 12 games and finish in the black in plus/minus. There might be some old-school hockey people out there who are impressed by his plus-3 rating. Who knows?
This isn’t to say that the Canucks shouldn’t look to trade Tanev. If they’re serious about rebuilding, Tanev is one of their best trade chips. It’s just that they should demand a high price for a cost-controlled, top-pairing defenceman who can match up against the best the NHL has to offer and shut them down.
If they can get another high first round pick in the draft, they absolutely should do it. If they can get the third overall pick from Dallas without giving up too much besides Tanev, there should be no hesitation. I’m just skeptical that they’ll actually get those types of offers.
The Canucks can afford to wait for at least a little while, even with a modified no-trade clause kicking in on July 1st. There may be future opportunities to trade Tanev for the right price: perhaps to a team with an injury to a top-four defencemen next season, or a team loading up at the trade deadline for a Cup run. This is one trade where Jim Benning must get the right return.