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Canucks want to keep Tanev, but trading him makes most sense for rebuild

Vancouver GM Jim Benning said he's not actively shopping Chris Tanev, but the Canucks should be seriously considering shipping out the defender and taking the long-term approach to their rebuild.

It took until days before the draft lottery for the Vancouver Canucks to admit the organization is going through a rebuild. Up until that point, it was the Canucks’ personal Voldemort, the process-which-must-not-be-named, with those in and around the Vancouver front office denying the team would go through any rejigging of the roster.

The reasoning was that it was hard for the organization to tell its veteran players, namely Henrik and Daniel Sedin, that the win-now philosophy was out the window. The Sedins are getting close to their final years and to sell off parts would be to almost ensure that winning a Stanley Cup in Vancouver wasn’t in the cards for the twins. So, the ‘R’ word wasn’t used, kept out of the mouths of those at the helm of the Canucks, until president Trevor Linden finally started calling Vancouver’s situation what it really is: a rebuild.

It only makes sense for the Canucks to rebuild, too. Aside from the historically bad Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver was the worst team in the league this past season. The Canucks finished second-last with 69 points, which is the worst showing the team has had in the Sedins era. Their offense was abysmal, their defense atrocious and their goaltending below average. But despite the forgettable season, don’t take the word rebuild to mean Vancouver’s about to entirely blow things up. 

In other places — Arizona, Buffalo and Toronto — there has been more of a scorched-earth approach, GMs leaving their teams barren while collecting picks and prospects. It’s a long-term approach. It’s also one the Canucks apparently aren’t interested in. Instead, it seems the Canucks are aiming for a short-term turnaround.

In order to achieve that, though, it doesn’t appear Canucks GM Jim Benning is willing to change up his roster all that much. In speaking with The Province’s Ben Kuzma, Benning noted he’s going to pursue re-signing 36-year-old netminder Ryan Miller. Benning also said that when it comes 31-year-old defenseman Alexander Edler, Vancouver’s “not looking to do anything.” But maybe the biggest news is that while Benning is listening to calls on defenseman Chris Tanev, he’s not exactly trying to move the 27-year-old rearguard.

“I’m not shopping Tanev or bringing his name up in conversations with other GMs. They bring up his name,” Benning told Kuzma. “Unless it would make sense for our future, I’m not trading Chris.”

That sure sounds like unless there’s a trade that blows Benning’s hair back, you’re likely to see about the same Canucks roster next season as took the ice this past season, save a free agent signing here or there. Given that’s the case, it appears Benning’s idea of a rebuild might be more in line with the philosophy the San Jose Sharks employed ahead of the 2015-16 season.

The Sharks, who had missed the post-season for the first time in a decade the year prior, were expected to take a look at retooling an aging roster that had repeatedly failed in the playoffs. Veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were considered potential trade candidates, goaltender Antti Niemi was set to hit the open market and it looked like it was time for a refresh. Sharks GM Doug Wilson had other plans, however. He made a brilliant deal to acquire goaltender Martin Jones, a splash in free agency to sign defenseman Paul Martin and solidified his roster up front by inking Joel Ward.

Those three moves worked, too. The Sharks went from an early summer in 2014-15 to Stanley Cup finalists in 2015-16. Jones was solid, Martin helped in a big way on the back end and Ward chipped in offensively while youngsters Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson produced along the way. For Wilson, it was a masterclass in the micro-rebuild as he orchestrated a year-to-year turnaround the likes of which hasn’t often been seen in the salary cap era.

But a similar strategy isn’t going to work in Vancouver.

When Wilson undertook his overnight retooling of the Sharks, he still had Thornton, Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Four of the six were 60-point players, while Marleau flirted with the mark and Vlasic continued to be the standout shutdown defender. Thus, adding Ward, Martin and Jones helped give San Jose an even more legitimate crop of forwards, a stronger top-three defense and turned their goaltending situation around. The Canucks simply don’t have a similar base off which to work.

Up front, Vancouver has the Sedins, Bo Horvat and no other forward who eclipsed the 40-point plateau. In fact, they didn’t have a single 60-point scorer all season. Defensively, Tanev is the rock, but he’s surrounded by an oft-injured Edler, soon-to-be sophomore Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton, who is heading into his third season. That’s not to mention that of the 54 goaltenders to play at least 20 games this past season, Miller and partner Jacob Markstrom finished 32nd and 36th, respectively, with .914 and .910 save percentages. Jones, who was relatively unproven, posted a .918 SP in 2015-16 for the Sharks. Markstrom has never had a season where he’s played that well. The last time Miller saw a .918 SP at season’s end was in 2013-14.

Beyond that, San Jose’s turnaround came after a season in which they posted 89 points and a .543 points percentage, finishing eight points out of the playoffs. This past season, Vancouver finished 25 points out of a playoff spot and had a .421 points percentage. The Sharks were much more ready to compete and turn things around than the Canucks are today.

And that’s why the idea of holding onto Tanev through this rebuild is odd.

Vancouver isn’t likely to make a run to the Stanley Cup next season and even suggesting 2018-19 is their year to make a resurgence seems bold. They simply don’t have the horses right now and the Canucks aren’t just a piece or two away. This is a team that needs some serious work and the reality is it’s going to take the Olli Juolevis, Brock Boesers and Thatcher Demkos of the roster at least another year or two to get acclimated to the NHL. And by the time they are consistently impactful, Tanev could be on his way out the door as a free agent.

To trade Tanev would be to say goodbye to competing in the next two or three years, yes, but it would also potentially land the Canucks a player, prospect and pick in an off-season that’s set to be awfully weak for those looking to add a defender. Picking up those pieces could help in a big way by the time the crop of youngsters who are set to come in are really starting to fulfill their potential. And a team in Vancouver’s position should be shopping whichever players can bring them a chance at the brightest future, and right now that means Tanev. Who knows, shipping him out could fetch a pick or prospect that pays off sooner rather than later, maybe even soon enough that the Sedins can stick around and win in the only NHL home they’ve ever known. 

So, if the Canucks are serious about turning things around and not trying to slap together a team that can maybe-but-probably-not sneak into the post-season, that starts with making some tough decisions. Because even if the Canucks are finally saying the word rebuild, it’s not going to be one until they really commit.

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