Chris Tanev is having a rough season. He missed seven games in November with a thumb injury, then missed another seven games in December with a groin strain. When he returned in early January, he took a puck to the face and lost six-and-a-half teeth, but only missed two games.
Then, on February 8th, he blocked a shot from Victor Hedman and fractured his leg. Other than October, Tanev has suffered a significant injury in every month of the season.
On Friday, Tanev was back at practice, skating with Alex Edler on the top pairing. If Tanev plays on Saturday, he’ll have missed another 17 games, bringing his total missed games up to 33. Some might call Tanev injury-prone, but it's not really his body's fault that it's susceptible to breaking when hit by a chunk of frozen rubber traveling at top speed.
Tanev left the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but returned after a trip to the medical room. As pointed out by Jeff Paterson, Tanev played 9:48 of that game with a fractured leg. It’s easy to tell how long he played with the broken bone, because the Lightning added insult to literal injury by scoring a goal on the play.
“It went right through the side of my shin pad and broke my leg,” said Tanev after Friday’s practice. “He’s a big man and he shoots the puck hard and obviously it is what it is. A fractured fibula. It was like a hardest shot competition shot.”
While it’s great to see Tanev back on the ice, it’s a little bittersweet given that there are just 11 games left in the season and the Canucks are so thoroughly done. There might be a pinch of sarcasm in the headline to this article, but that sarcasm is in service to a bigger question: should the Canucks even try to get injured players back in the lineup?
Tanev’s timeline on his injury was an odd one: he was initially expected to be back in mid-February. Then, on February 20th, it was reported he would be out for another 3-4 weeks, which fits with him returning now. Would it be better for Tanev to continue resting for the rest of the season and get a head start on his off-season training for next year?
Proponents of tanking for a better draft pick would likely prefer that Tanev, the team’s best defenceman, stay out of the lineup for as long as possible. Tanev himself, on the other hand, just wants to play, which isn’t surprising. Hockey is pretty much his entire life.
Let’s be clear: players and coaches don’t tank. Travis Green is going to coach to win every game and the players on the ice will play to win every game.
The “proper” way to tank, then, is not to try to lose, but to build a team incapable of winning. Shutting down players with serious injuries is one way to do that. The Canucks have already shut down Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Loui Eriksson, and Erik Gudbranson. Brock Boeser is unlikely to return from his injury, while Brendan Gaunce might possibly return by the end of the season. Why not keep them all out, give other players a chance to get in the lineup and catch the attention of Canucks’ management, while tanking for a better draft pick?
There’s also a non-tank reason to keep injured players out for the rest of the season: why risk aggravating an injury in meaningless games? If the goal is to compete for the playoffs next season, it is essential that Tanev remains healthy.
One other thing to consider, however, is a potential trade. The Canucks didn’t seem interested in trading Tanev at the deadline this year, but maybe things will look different at the draft. While Tanev is their best defenceman, he also has the most potential value in a trade. Proving that he’s fully recovered from his injury might make trade talks go a little more smoothly.
Ultimately, Tanev’s return may not make much difference to the Canucks’ record down the stretch, as their biggest issue is scoring. That’s not really Tanev’s jam, though some solid defence at one end can turn into offensive opportunities at the other end. It’s just tough to recommend that someone so adept at shot-blocking step back into a lineup that faces so many shots. No one wants to see Tanev get injured again in a game that doesn’t matter.