Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev is one of the NHL’s top defensive defencemen. But what’s going on with his stats this season?
For a long time, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev has been one of the most underrated players in the entire NHL. Not because he is an elite player that should be in Norris Trophy conversation, but because he is an elite defensive player who is extremely tough to beat defensively.
As a result, Tanev is tied with Alex Edler for first among Canucks D-men in Corsi-for percentage over the past three seasons.
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In 2016-17, however, we can’t find Tanev at No. 1. Or No. 2. Or No. 3.
So far this season, Tanev has been the Canucks’ second-worst Corsi player, with a Corsi-for percentage of 46.6. Only Luca Sbisa is a tad worse, coming in at 46.5.
Shot Rates Against
Looking at shot-rate visualisations by Micah Blake McCurdy, we can clearly see what Tanev is good at.
While the Canucks as a whole are struggling to keep their opponents away from the net, Tanev has been doing a terrific job. With him on the ice, shot rates against from net-front areas are far below league average. Tanev consistently manages to prevent opponents from getting shots off in the slot.
As soon as Tanev leaves the ice, Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom need to pay special attention. Keeping players away from the net and preventing shot attempts from the slot area is an ability Tanev certainly has. Unfortunately, that does not hold true for most other Canucks defencemen.
To be fair, Tanev spends most of his ice time playing behind the top-two lines of Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson and Baertschi-Horvat-Burrows. Still, the shot rates against without Tanev on the ice are alarming.
Shot Rates For
If we assume that the offensive lines have a major impact on Tanev’s defensive stats, we would also assume that they have the same effect offensively, right? Well, they don’t.
Tanev is no Troy Stecher. That was usually okay. This season, however, Tanev isn’t normally paired with more offensive-minded players either. Spending most of his ice time with Luca Sbisa on the left side, Tanev and the Canucks struggle to create offence.
As a result, shot rates for are below league average almost everywhere in the offensive zone.
The Canucks struggle to produce offence as a team, but Tanev — or rather Tanev’s pairing — seems to have a significant impact on that.
With Tanev off the ice, shot rates still don’t look great. Again, the Canucks as a whole struggle to produce offence.
But, shot rates improve almost everywhere in the offensive zone with Tanev on the bench. Especially the increase of shot attempts from the crease and slot area are worth mentioning. Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton and Nikita Tryamkin also contribute shots from the blue line, which is something we rarely see from Tanev.
By the Numbers
What we saw visualised above can also be expressed in plain numbers.
With an hourly Corsi-against rate of 46.78, Tanev leads all Canucks defencemen — by a lot. Alex Biega comes in second at 51.76.
Not only the majority of Canucks D-men is posting worse defensive numbers than Tanev, though. The 27-year-old also ranks ninth in Corsi against per 60 among all NHL blue-liners that have played 200 minutes or more this season.
Unfortunately, Tanev’s offensive impact, as visualised above, is the exact opposite.
Tanev ranks dead-last among Canucks defencemen in Corsi for per 60 at 40.86 with a difference of 6.17 to second-worst Sbisa.
Biega, who ranks second in Corsi against, leads the Canucks in Corsi for per 60 at 58.8 — that is a difference of almost 18. So, while Biega leads the Canucks in Corsi-for percentage, Tanev’s bad offensive numbers actually drag him all the way to the bottom in that category.
We obviously can’t ignore that Biega has only appeared in 13 games so far this season, so his numbers are without a doubt inflated. Biega is not the Canucks’ new No. 1 defenceman, don’t worry. Still, the difference is far bigger than one would expect.
Now here’s the scoop: There is currently only one defenceman in the entire NHL whose Corsi-for rate is even worse than Tanev’s — Anaheim Duck Korbinian Holzer.
So, honestly, it can only go up from here.
So far, Tanev has appeared in just 20 games, so a lot can change in the remaining 37. His defensive game has been exactly what we are used to, only the offensive side is worrying.
The easy thing would be to attach a “small sample size alert” sticker to Tanev’s helmet and wait. But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t investigate possible reasons for the “decline”.
In the past, the Canucks with Tanev on the ice had better offensive shot rates than they do now. Yet, we know that Tanev was never really the one creating offence. Sure, if your team has the puck often, they will also get more shooting opportunities, but that isn’t really the issue here.
What has changed compared to past seasons is Tanev’s D-partner — nothing else.
Over the past three years, Tanev spent the majority of his ice time with one of Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis. Going into the 2016-17 season, a top pairing of Tanev and Edler was the plan as well. It was Tanev’s injury that changed things.
With Tanev down, rookie Troy Stecher got a chance on the top pairing with Edler. Head coach Willie Desjardins knew it worked in the preseason, so he had good reason to try it out. Stecher rose to the occasion and was never removed from the first D-unit.
So, upon Tanev’s return, Desjardins needed to find a new solution. Hutton-Tanev is a pairing that we know can work. But, Desjardins’ regular line shuffling along with an injury to Hutton have resulted in Tanev playing the majority of even-strength minutes with none other than Sbisa.
It would be too easy to say “this is all because of Sbisa,” but it kind of is. At the same time, Sbisa’s bad Corsi-for numbers are “all because of Tanev.”