Today I’m going to focus on Brandon Tanev and what his addition does for the 2019-20 Penguins. His contract is objectively bad when you take into consideration his AAV and his term. It’s an egregious error to give a fringe third line player both money and term, but here we are. However, the possibility of Tanev doing some good things early on in the deal is still on the table. In a bubble he has the potential to be an effective depth forward for the Penguins. The problem is that nothing in a hard salary cap league can be discussed in a bubble. Every contract has an impact on how the team can do business moving forward. When you look at players like Nikita Gusev and Timo Meier going for 4M with low acquisition costs (in the case of Meier nothing) it can be a little frustrating to see 3.5M spent on who is likely a fourth line forward.
Let’s set aside the contract for now and look at Tanev’s most recent sample. He had a career year at age 27 in Winnipeg last year.
It’s a really good season for a depth player. He’s got a lot of blue going on which is encouraging. There are a few things to point out. His PDO is one of the higher bars on the chart so you can’t go into 2019-20 and expect it to automatically be there. His goals are in a good spot, but he has been very slightly lucky based on his ‘vs expected’ bar. This could be problematic if his shooting percentage drops. If he was slightly lucky while shooting 11.0% what does it look like if it drops? Something to keep an eye on.
Defensively he was strong. The 7 he earned in “vs expected” means he was luckier than most. His on-ice save percentage was .9375 last year at even-strength. That is incredibly high.
His transition game seems to be his weakness. He has a lot of attempted entries which is good. The issue is that most of them are without possession. He’s a dump and chase player. He has speed, but over the years we know that controlled entries lead to better offensive production. He will need to make up for this by using his speed to frustrate the opposition with a hard forecheck and eliminate their ability to exit the zone clean. It is a little bit of a catch 22 because if he does cause the opponent to exit the zone without control the Penguins ability to transition back is impeded by Tanev’s track record in this regard. Best case scenario will look like a ping pong match. The positive here is that you can’t have a lot of attempted zone entries if you don’t have the puck. So there’s that.
His low shot assist totals are not encouraging if you want Tanev to play up in the lineup. His passing project sample is in blue which means there has been enough data collected in this area to form a good idea of who he is in these areas. I don’t want players who can’t create playing with Crosby or Malkin it defeats the purpose of having Crosby and Malkin.
While the context I am providing for these numbers is an effort to temper expectations I do not think he is going to fall off a cliff and become a negative drag on the team if some of his luck does start to turn the other way. This of course assumes he is in a proper role on the fourth line or providing spot duty on the third and not being force fed elevated minutes because of his contract.
This leads into the next part of the Tanev discussion. What does the lineup look like with him in it? Looking at the roster we have a number of left wing candidates on the roster. The Penguins could use the following players on the left side: Jake Guentzel, Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Simon, Dominik Kahun, Bryan Rust, Jared McCann, Zach Aston-Reese, and Brandon Tanev. There are a lot of options here for Mike Sullivan. Where does this leave a player like Tanev?
I’m going to throw out a number of different line combinations, but with Bryan Rust left out of the discussion. I still believe he is the odd player out because of the Tanev signing. Something has to give the team needs to cut salary to sign Marcus Pettersson.
Here is a starting point
This keeps Crosby with Guentzel and gives Malkin two new wingers to work with. It also keeps the third line together that had great underlying numbers to close the 2018-19 season. Tanev finds himself in a fourth line role. This assumes McCann and Kahun are up for the job on those respective lines which in the case of McCann I highlighted as a question mark last week
Last year’s third line line is broken up and Simon was given a promotion to the top line. I personally don’t think he can live there permanently, but I do think he’s a wonderful depth player that has the versatility to move up and down the lineup. His underlying numbers were spectacular last year with his offense being a question mark. While the numbers were low he was very unlucky according to his ‘vs expected’ score offensively. A shooting percentage bump from the 6.6% he had last year would help. Small sample size alert: Simon did have four goals and 12 points in ten games at the World Championships this spring for the Czech Republic.
The third line of Tanev-McCann-Bjugstad is a question mark and potential downgrade from what the team finished with the previous year. This highlights how forcing Tanev into a third line role is going to put others in peculiar places in the lineup. This of course is just one look. According to Cap Friendly Tanev can play right wing so if you wanted to keep Bjugstad at center and put McCann on the left with Tanev on the right I suppose you could.
The top line has had positive results in the past. Bjugstad is probably a better winger than a center when the amount of ice he has to cover is minimized. If you’re a glass half-full person on Jared McCann you should hope that he could be able to function on a line with Simon and Kahun. This fourth line combo keeps showing up because I think asking these players to do more is unfair to them. It’s hard to see Tanev being anything more than an effective fourth line player on a premium contract.
If Galchenyuk doesn’t click with Malkin there is a scenario where he could play on the third line there are multiple variations of this including:
I mean there’s so many players with the ability to shift positions the possibilities are plentiful as I’m sure you are seeing by now.
There are even more options to be had, but I think these line combos I have used today highlight the different areas and roles the players can be put in. The one constant is Guentzel-Crosby. It’s the only sure thing I can think of right now when constructing the lineup.
Ultimately, Brandon Tanev when placed in a proper role is going to be a useful player for the Penguins early on in the contract. This isn’t a situation where you are playing a Tanner Glass or a late stage Craig Adams. A lot of the scorn about acquiring Tanev would go away if his contract was for two years at a 2M AAV. The Penguins are going to get an effective fourth line player who can skate and kill penalties and that is not a negative. It is tough to separate the player from the contract because his acquisition does come at a cost. The Penguins choice to overpay for Tanev is going to cost them in other areas, likely Bryan Rust who is younger and better. There is only so much money to go around.
It’s no fault of his own, but Brandon Tanev is a luxury item at a luxury price on this roster.
Thanks for reading!