Let’s call a spade a spade and get something out of the way here early so it doesn’t get twisted:
Brandon Tanev has been really damn good for the Penguins.
So when GM Jim Rutherford sat down with The Athletic’s Josh Yohe to discuss the current state of the union, it’s no surprise that the past two July 1sts came up in discussion.
Since we’re here to talk Tanev, let’s talk Tanev, with Rutherford (and Yohe) having this to say:
Rutherford received considerable criticism from members of the fan base, and some members of the media, for giving Tanev a six-year contract. The general manager delivered a message Wednesday to anyone who disliked the deal.
“Well, he’s an important player for us,” Rutherford said. “We talked about getting that energy back into the lineup, the energy we were missing. Speed. A team player. That’s what he is, that’s what he’s done. You know, it’s easy to sit back and talk about contracts, how much money they are, how long they are. But at the end of the day, if you don’t give the player in free agency what they’re looking for at what the going rate is, guess what? You don’t have the player. So, we could be sitting here right now without him, talking about, ‘We could use a player, maybe someone like Brandon Tanev.’ Or, we could just have him right now.”
Rutherford is completely pleased with the free agent pickup.
“I’m not nervous about the length of his contract at all,” Rutherford said. “Time will tell, but I feel very good about this guy. He’s a really good player, and he keeps himself in great shape. He’s young. I think he’s going to be very good for us for a long time.”
Now, you don’t need me to tell you about aging in the NHL and the impact it has on long term contracts. There’s plenty of evidence out there showing just that. Just ask the Islanders about it. Or the Oilers. Or the Flames. Or the Sabres, Red Wings, Canucks, Bruins, and Panthers.
You also don’t need me to tell you that Tanev has only played 18 games as a Penguin and that making 6 year projections after 18 games into a potential 492 game contract (excluding playoffs) isn’t exactly forward thinking.
But at the end of the day, the only forward thinking that needs done is that of maximizing what’s left of the the Crosby/Malkin/Letang window. And Tanev is helping do that as it stands right now in this current moment in time.
We’re also not here to relitigate the Tanev contract length, or be critical of GMJR today. If he wanted total immunity from criticism from his base, he could just run for public office with the Republican Party.
Instead, we’re going to heap some praise on GMJR and his staff for identifying Tanev as a good fit and heap praise on Tanev himself for being everything as advertised for the Penguins so far, independent of age (and death) coming for us all.
GMJR was right, after all. Time will tell how Tanev and this contract ages.
In the interim, he should be pleased with the present and what he’s gotten out of Tanev so far through 18 games.
That is: a speedy, heavy forechecking, puck hounding, tenacious and all around mean SOB that’s just a pain in the ass to play against.
What you see here is that Tanev’s isolated impact, via HockeyViz.com, is almost identical to that of his previous season in Winnipeg. He’s suppressed the hell out of unblocked shot attempts, though is below average at driving offense.
Stripping that isolation impact away and looking solely at what’s taking place while he’s on the ice, we see that too.
In fact, while Tanev is on the ice for the Penguins, they aren’t really generating much relative to that of the rest of the league. From the goal mouth up all the way to the mid-slot, you see below that the Penguins are generating far fewer unblocked shot attempts while Tanev is on the ice.
But anyone that has paid attention to Tanev, whether it be throughout his career or learning about him this offseason, knew that he wasn’t ever going to be an offensive dynamo. Where he thrives is on the defensive side of the puck.
And that’s precisely where he’s thrived for the Penguins.
Offensively, a negative Threat is bad. Defensively, it’s good.
And with Tanev on the ice, relative to the rest of the league, the Penguins are insane defensively.
All of that blue means the Penguins are giving up fewer unblocked shot attempts from those locations. Those unblocked shot attempt locations not taking place from anywhere near the net is, in a word, great.
Relative to the rest of the Penguins team, this also shows up.
As you’d expect, when Tanev is off the ice, the Penguins generate more per 60 minutes of 5v5 place in terms of unblocked shot attempts (+7.85), scoring chances (+4.75), high danger scoring chances (+3.06), expected goals (+0.63), and actual goals (+1.32).
But Tanev’s bread and butter is in the defensive zone. Relative to the rest of the team, the Penguins have given up (per hour of 5v5 play) 4.14 fewer unblocked shot attempts, 6.11 fewer scoring chances, 4.05 fewer high danger chances, 0.43 fewer expected goals, and just 0.19 more actual goals when Tanev is on the ice compared to when he is off of it.
That all shakes out to the Penguins losing their share of unblocked shot attempts, expected goals, and actual goals by 1.75%, 1.13%, and 15.27% respectively with Tanev on the ice, but see an overall relative improvement with him on of +2.46% and +5.97% in terms of scoring chances and high danger chances respectively.
In other words, even though the Penguins aren’t driving a substantial amount of play with Tanev on the ice relative to the rest of the team, they are so good at suppressing events with him out there that he ends up a net positive or close to it.
In fact, when looking at his raw share of on-ice events, we see that too (via Natural Stat Trick).
|Brandon Tanev – 5v5||Shot Attempts||Unblocked Shot Attempts||Expected Goals||Actual Goals||Scoring Chances||High Danger Scoring Chances|
Remarkably, this is also a guy that starts just 33.33% of his shifts in the offensive zone. For the sake of comparison, of the regulars in the lineup, only Teddy Blueger (24.39%) and Zach Aston-Reese (27.63%) see a smaller percentage of shift starts in the offensive zone. Those three are the only 3 that are even under 50%.
Which is to say that even in spite of his deployment, Brandon Tanev has been a buzzsaw in terms of controlling the puck for the Penguins. To see him floating above 50% like we see above is insane.
But to pump his tires even a little more, let’s take a look at the competition he faces (via PuckIQ.com).
You’ll recall that last season with the Jets, Tanev absolutely crushed it against Elite competition at 5-on-5.
Spoiler alert: we’ve see the same thing this season.
|Brandon Tanev vs. Tier||Elite||Middle||Gritensity|
|TOI Against Tier||86.90||75.28||61.30|
|Share of Shot Attempts||57.00%||54.20%||49.9%|
|Share of Shot Attempts (Relative to teammates vs. same competition)||+5.40%||+1.10%||-7.30%|
|Share of Dangerous Unblocked Shot Attempts||62.70%||50.30%||56.10%|
|Share of Dangerous Unblocked Shot Attempts (Relative to teammates vs. same competition)||+9.30%||-10.20%||+1.00%|
When Tanev is on the ice, particularly against Elite competition, that competition isn’t getting anything going at 5v5. Tanev and the Penguins control 57% of the shot attempts that take place and 62.70% of the dangerous unblocked attempts, while seeing just 28.57% of his shifts start in the offensive zone.
And while the rest of the Penguins team ends up generating 6.60 more shot attempts and 13.54 more dangerous unblocked attempts with him off the ice against Elite competition than with him on it per hour of play, they’re also giving up 16.04 fewer shot attempts and 22.24 fewer dangerous unblocked attempts per hour with him on the ice compared to when he’s off of it against Elite competition.
So, while Tanev only has 3 goals and 7 points through 18 games in a largely checking role, he’s performed admirably at 5v5 so far. We don’t exactly know what the future will hold, but the longer the Penguins get this sort of effort and performance out of the 27 year old, the better they will be for it.