5 smart trade destinations for Vancouver’s Chris Tanev

The Hockey Night In Canada panel discuss where Ilya Kovalchuk may land if return to the NHL happens, possible offside changes, and the latest trade rumours.

“My brother tells me when I’m in trade rumours.” — Chris Tanev

Jim Benning is getting better at keeping his cards closer to his vest.

One off-season ago, the Vancouver Canucks general manager was spraying his intent to take runs at Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban and Loui Eriksson all over the place.

In the case of Chris Tanev — one of the most desirable blueliners available for the right price — Benning has learned enough from past missteps to slow-play this one.

“It’s hard to find good defencemen, especially defencemen who are mobile and move the puck,” Benning recently told Postmedia News. “Unless it would make sense for our future, I’m not trading Chris. He means so much to our team.”

He also said this: “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t listen and see if [a trade] is worth it, but it’s hard to find good defencemen. Especially defencemen who are mobile and move the puck. I’m not shopping Tanev or bringing his name up in conversations with other GMs. They bring up his name.”

Benning’s choice of words here is key. Montreal’s Marc Bergevin was also “not shopping” Subban.

As a top-four right shot, Tanev’s trade value is high — especially in light of what the Devils reaped in return for Adam Larsson a year ago.

Like Larsson, the 27-year-old brings cost certainty at a reasonable rate. Tanev has three years remaining on a fair contract that carries a $4.45-million cap hit. A modified no-trade clause kicks in at the beginning of 2017-18, at which point he can submit an eight-team no-trade list.

Here are five teams with whom we could see Benning striking a sensible trade deal for Tanev (cc: Chris Tanev’s brother).

Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are reaching a tipping point with left wing Evander Kane, who has just one season and $5.25 million remaining on his contract. He can be re-signed as early as July 1, but as per annual custom, the young scorer’s name has popped up in trade rumours — most recently linked to the goal-starved Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings are in more immediate need of Kane’s hands — the 25-year-old sniper potted 28 goals in 2016-17, his highest total since 2011-12 — but Vancouver’s offence ranked 29th overall. The Canucks would be remiss to ignore any goal scorer this far away from his 30th birthday, and it says here that Kane is a Vancouver native, which makes for a handy if overrated link.

Kane has not always been on the same page with teammates or coaches, which raises a red flag. So should five consecutive years as a minus player.

But his trade value is reaching a peak, and the Sabres are starving for good, young defencemen. Tanev could pick up some of the slack left behind by UFAs Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov and, behind Rasmus Ristolainen, give Buffalo a nice one-two punch of right-shot defencemen.

In addition to Kane, Buffalo GM Jason Botterill has extra draft picks in the second and third round he could use as trade currency. The Canucks may inquire about Sam Reinhart, but we’d be shocked to see the Sabres deal a 21-year-old centre.

“Don’t forget that Sabres owner Terry Pegula is big on character these days,” writes Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News. “Both Pegula and his wife, Kim, were known to be furious with Kane’s indiscretion at a Buffalo bar last June, when the entire league was in town during draft week.

“With [fired GM Tim] Murray gone, it’s much easier for ownership to make it clear they want Kane moved and since Botterill doesn’t have to justify the deal, it’s more likely it gets done.

Dallas Stars
The Vancouver Sun‘s Ben Kuzma dived into a deep explanation of why trading Tanev to Dallas for the third-overall pick could make sense.

On the heels of upgrading his starting goaltender (Ben Bishop) and hiring a defensive wizard for his new head coach (Ken Hitchcock), Stars GM Jim Nill has already gone public with his willingness to move his lottery-claimed top-three pick for a roster player.

And, like all five teams on this list, Nill’s pressing need is for a defenceman. After trusted defenceman Dan Hamhuis, 34, the most experienced blueliner on the roster is 24-year-old John Klingberg.

“I have talked to other teams already about possibly moving that pick, getting an established player back,” Nill recently told NHL Network Radio. “It gives us a lot of options. I think this will heat up more as we go.”

With the Canucks already drafting fifth overall, could dangling Tanev give the franchise two top-five picks and help accelerate the rebuild?

Surely Nill’s lucky acquisition of the Ducks’ first-rounder has made him more amenable to trading No. 3.

New York Rangers
The Rangers were one of the NHL’s top offensive clubs in 2016-17 and are looking to upgrade their D core this off-season.

Though UFA defenceman and New York native Kevin Shattenkirk is believed to be a prime target, Tanev comes younger and cheaper, cap-hit-wise.

You’d think any addition to the Blueshirts’ back end would mean freeing up finances. Dan Girardi or Marc Staal are prime buyout candidates, but according to Larry Brooks of The New York Post, neither has been told to expect a buyout prior to the NHL Expansion Draft, nor have they been asked to waive their no-move clauses.

The Rangers are light on draft picks to offer, but they could look to trade RFA centre Oscar Lindberg, 25, or goaltender Antti Raanta. Or both. Could Lindberg grow into a top-six centre in Vancouver by the time Henrik Sedin moves on? Could Raanta ($1-million cap hit) be a cheap alternative to bringing back Ryan Miller and provide a competitive foil for Jacob Markstrom?

The Canucks should be a lottery team again in 2018. They don’t need all-world netminding; they need younger, hungrier talent.

Tampa Bay Lightning
You’d be hard-pressed to find a non-playoff team better positioned to turn around and contend than Steve Yzerman’s.

The Lightning GM’s top priority this off-season must be re-signing his trio of talented RFAs (or understanding which one he won’t able to re-sign): Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. A close second must be shoring up his defence, something the exec has been trying to accomplish for months.

Anton Stralman is the only right shot under contract for next season. Andrej Sustr (RFA) and Luke Witkowski (UFA) are searching for raises, but Tanev would upgrade Tampa’s top four.

We don’t see Palat moving, but surely Vancouver’s offence could benefit from a sniper like Drouin or a healthy Johnson up the middle.

The emergence of 21-year-old centre Brayden Point both during Tampa’s playoff push and Team Canada’s silver-medal showing under Jon Cooper at the worlds has us wondering if they’d be more willing to part with Johnson if it meant a defensive improvement.

Toronto Maple Leafs
This hopeful, youthful incarnation of the Maple Leafs sees value in homegrown talent thriving in Toronto, and Tanev is a born-and-bred Torontonian who returns in summers to train.

The Leafs have the puck-moving category checked off in Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, and they desperately need to fill a hole in their top four with a right shot. Both in terms of his age (27) and contract ($4.45 million cap hit through 2019-20), Tanev slides in perfectly for Toronto’s financial planning.

Most important: Tanev is a defender first and won’t be chasing points. To think, the guy registered a plus-3 rating last season for the second-worst club in the NHL, a group with a minus-61 goal differential.

Eventually, Toronto will have to shed from its wealth of forwards, and the Canucks could ask for Connor Brown (who would be tough to pry from Mike Babcock), Josh Leivo, Kasperi Kapanen, Kerby Rychel, or Jeremy Bracco.