Tanev hopes to be part of Canucks' future as tough decisions loom

VANCOUVER – When the Vancouver Canucks’ end-of-season player media availabilities started on Thursday, captain Bo Horvat and veteran defenceman Chris Tanev shared a video call.

But they may never share another game as teammates. That sounds dramatic, but it’s also the harsh possibility the Canucks and their players face after a breakthrough 2019-20 season that saw the rebuilt team win two playoff rounds and take the Vegas Golden Knights to Game 7 of the conference semi-finals before losing Friday in Edmonton.

Tanev is one of only two players remaining from the Canucks dressing room that welcomed Horvat into the NHL as a 19-year-old rookie back in 2014. Defenceman Alex Edler is the other. A third teammate, goalie Jacob Markstrom, was in the minors when Horvat’s rookie season began nearly six years ago.

Tanev, 30, has been a constant, stable and supportive influence during Horvat’s development into a premier two-way centre.

The defenceman badly wants to remain with the Canucks. Horvat and the organization want to keep him. Why wouldn’t they?

But Tanev is due to become an unrestricted free agent amid the flat-cap crisis facing all NHL teams, and general manager Jim Benning has stated numerous times his top UFA priority is Markstrom. After that, the Canucks need to find out if they can keep top winger Tyler Toffoli from leaving as a free agent.

Tanev and other players will likely be waiting to see how much cap space trickles downward.

“I’ve said as long as I’ve been here I’d love to stay with the team,” Tanev told reporters. “I love the organization, love all the guys, love the city, fans are great. That’s obviously the goal -- to be able to stay a Canuck as long as I can. I haven’t thought about the possibility of playing my last game, to be honest.

“Jacob’s our MVP and has been awesome for us for the last few years. That’s going to take priority and it it is what it is, so I mean you have to prepare yourself to wait a bit. Realistically, it doesn’t matter if you sign today or the day before free agency. If you’re going to be a Canuck, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Not everyone will sign.

The hopefulness and excitement generated by the Canucks’ season are suddenly tempered by that.

“We want to keep this team together,” Horvat said. “I think we have a great core group. I think we have a lot of great aspects to this team. Obviously, there are some tough decisions that have to be made. I wouldn’t want to be in (management’s) shoes, but hopefully, they can make the right ones and, hopefully, we can get pretty much everybody back to make this run again.”

On Tanev, Horvat said: “Chris has been unbelievable, not only in the dressing room but for the organization. On the ice, off the ice, right from Day 1 when I got here, taking me out to dinners and making me welcome and comfortable around the city. His play speaks for itself. He brings it every single night and you can always count on him.”

It’s difficult to count on anything heading into an NHL off-season as unprecedented and unknowable as many of the other things that have occurred in the Year of the Coronavirus.

The big picture for the Canucks, the broad view, still looks beautiful. But how will they get there?

Their young core, Horvat, 25, and Elias Pettersson, 21, Quinn Hughes, 20, and Brock Boeser, 23, is one of the best in the NHL. Backup goalie Thatcher Demko is 24, and another handful of talented prospects will be pushing to become a part of this talented group in the next couple of years.

Edmonton and this year’s Stanley Cup tournament was a giant step forward for the Canucks, and certainly shouldn’t be their last. But not everyone on the team will be here for the next leap.

Affectionately referred to as “Dad” by his youngest teammates, Tanev has spent his entire 10 years as a pro in the Canucks organization and has played all 514 of his NHL games with the team.

Few players have literally sacrificed themselves as much for their team as has the often-injured Tanev, who played all 69 games for the Canucks this year and was fourth in the NHL with 159 blocks. In the playoffs, Tanev was second to Edler in blocks with 54.

“The young guys were obviously incredible for us and they’re going to grow as they get older,” Tanev said. “Quinn is 20 and Petey and Brock are so young. It was just a big opportunity for guys to gain experience (this summer) and learn what the playoffs are like.

“As they get older and do this more often, they’re going to understand what it takes to go ever further than we did. Everyone is proud of what we accomplished, but we’d still like to be playing right now. Hopefully, as the years go by, that’s what happens.”

He hopes, also, to be part of it.

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