Dear Vancouver: Show Chris Tanev the Money

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

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Contracts are complicated. Confusing. And it’s probably not really what it seems like, looking in through the window.

So when we talk about contracts and the negotiations that lead to both the offering and signing of them, we have to take into account that maybe it’s not as simple as something you can sum up in 500 words – perhaps, even if a player deserves the money for his skill, for example, he hasn’t yet earned it. Or maybe he wanted even more money, money he wasn’t going to get. Maybe he was just being a pain in the ass the entire time – maybe he wants to go somewhere else, and so he’s using his agent and/or team to drive his general manager up the wall, until finally the boss relents, gives up, and cuts him loose.

Maybe the GM has played hardball himself in the past, and the player’s now hell-bent on mind-gaming him into oblivion while he very eagerly looks toward free agency.

Now, it’s highly unlikely Chris Tanev’s negotiation has even scratched any of those scenarios.

But I only mention to say, if you’re thinking the Vancouver Canucks should have just given the guy a long-term, reasonable deal two full seasons ago, that maybe it’s not that easy.

I don’t know the ins and outs of whatever last collective bargaining agreement the NHL and its Players’ Association signed to keep themselves at arm’s length – close enough, but not touching.

I don’t know if there’s some way it was impossible for the Canucks to do so – maybe they’ve been just stringing Tanev along with cheap, one-year deals because it’s a solid business decision, or because that’s what their cap forced them into.

It’s complicated, sure. But I only write that winded disclaimer to have the freedom to say what I really feel… that it should also be very simple.

He’s good, right? So pay him. And pay him for a while.

Because Chris Tanev has been a $4 to $5 million defence man for at least two seasons now. He has earned everything he’ll ask for this summer – he’s been the Canucks’ most consistent, normally healthiest back-ender. He doesn’t have the profile maybe Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, or Kevin Bieksa has, but consider him a diamond in that he plays without needing it or searching for it.

They say the best compliment you can give a (defensive) defenceman is that you didn’t notice him, when you watch a game.

But Tanev does one better – you notice him because he’s quiet, because you’re aware of how you’re not noticing him.

Adding him to Vancouver’s lineup has been like adding Philip Seymour Hoffman to literally any movie – you’ll walk from the theatre away wondering, If that film sucked, why did I enjoy it so much? Well, because there was a subtly mad genius carefully holding up everything and everyone around him, and you’ll recognize it the second time you see the thing.

Currently, Tanev’s playing out a one-year, $2 million deal. The one before that was also one year, $1.5 million. The one before that, justifiably also low because it was his first in the NHL, was for three years and $2.7 million. (It expired in 2013.)

He says he’s not concerned about the money or the term: “I’m just focusing on playing hockey and winning games. We’re having a lot of fun in here and it’s good to be in a winning atmosphere… You focus on hockey. Everything else after that, (that’s) why you have agents to take care of that.”

Well said. But his quotes are like his play – sharpened, free of holes, sturdy and safe, but suggesting there’s more to come, more that’s not being said or shown.

Because Tanev must be thinking the same things we’re all thinking. How can he not? I don’t want to say he’s been disrespected, but certainly his wallet’s not been appreciated like others’ have.

It’s unclear whether Vancouver was just crunched for the cap – they were, once – and tried to dine on spaghetti for a few years, unfortunately dragging Tanev through that.

It’s unclear whether they were just waiting for him to fail, like it seems they’re now doing with Eddie Lack, which would make little sense since Tanev has never let that outlook seem probable.

Tanev has been Tanev-good since he joined the Canucks in the middle of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. His excellence as an injury sub was so immediately recognized, it was hilarious – Kevin Bieksa joked, in the series against Boston that Vancouver ultimately lost, that Tanev was so calm and cool, he could have played the the Final with a cigarette in his mouth.

(NOTE: John Tortorella used to joke last year that he’d been told by Mike Gillis to stop raving about Tanev to the media, because he was driving the d-man’s price up. But Bieksa was in Chris’s corner way before that: “It’s almost like he’s clueless,” he said in 2011. “It’s the Stanley Cup final, Game 5, huge game. And it’s like he’s going for a Sunday skate out there. He’s so good with the puck, he made some unbelievable breakout plays. He’s just so reliable.”)

And yes, his camp has certainly been bookmarking Google searches of TJ Brodie andMarc Methot, who both recently signed deals that reset the average a player like Tanev – or worse than Tanev – will earn in 2015.

“The only regret the Canucks should have is not extending his contract sooner, before the price went up,” concludes Rob Williams of VanCity Buzz.

Agreed, of course. But it’s not just unlucky regret – you know, that kind of, ‘Oh, I wish I hadn’t sold my Apple stock in 1998. But how could I have known?’

No, it’s regret from a mistake they themselves made, consciously.

You always hear from hockey folk about how they want to control their own destiny – they’d rather have to win the final game of the regular season to make the playoffs, instead of having to watch another team lose, for example.

But with Tanev, Vancouver just sat around and let it happen; they let his price go up, refusing to lock him down when the tide was out… TWICE!

It was understandable two summers ago, when they were loaded with David Booth and Keith Ballard on their books and had to buy out one, when they were dangling both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, eventually dropping both.

But last summer, for all the excellent moves he made and for all the adrenaline shots he gave the Canucks’ lineup, Jim Benning made one huge mistake.

He waited to see what Tanev could do. And Tanev called his bluff.

*NOTE: Kyle Dubas, if you’re reading this, just ignore it all. I was kidding. Don’t try to sign Tanev to a $5 million deal this summer. Seriously, I was just kidding… you don’t wanna do that. Just stop reading. Now. Please?

VIDEO: Chris Tanev – My Hometown – Vancouver Canucks