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Chris Tanev’s potential Maple Leafs homecoming would be an atypical hero story

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Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
12 days ago
Chris Tanev’s free agency rights were acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday in an attempt to convince the 34-year-old to return home. Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel You Can’t Go Home Again has been parsed and interpreted in many different ways but as it relates to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ ecosystem, there’s a natural instinct to tie any Toronto-born and raised player back to the blue-and-white. We’ve seen campaigns for Steven Stamkos both in the past and now in the present as he will be one of the most sought-after free agents Monday. The successful campaign for John Tavares’ homecoming is well-documented among Leafs Nation. Tanev’s civic roots are entrenched, but it’s not the typical Ontario-born prodigy returning home to play for the Buds story that we’ve become accustomed to.
The first time I saw Tanev play was at the Hershey Centre (now, the Paramount Fine Foods centre, you can truly never go home again!) as a U11 AAA player for a Toronto Red Wings team that eventually won the city’s championship — among notables on that team were Chris Terry and Louis Caporusso. I had heard of him by reputation — we’re the same age and Tanev was part of the vaunted U10 1989-born North York Canadiens team AAA (now the Jr. Canadiens) that featured P.K. Subban and Steven Stamkos. Tanev was a good player in the GTHL circuit but he was eventually cut during the all pivotal U16 season, ostensibly because he was too small.
He was passed over by the Ontario Hockey League and in a rare move for a player with professional aspirations, took part in Toronto’s high school circuit, playing for and graduating from East York Collegiate. After a massive growth spurt, Tanev’s play took off at the academically rigorous Rochester Institute of Technology where Dave Gagner — the longtime NHL pro and Sam’s father, recommended Tanev to the Vancouver Canucks. The rest as you’d say is history and Tanev never looked back, making an immediate impact for the 2011 Canucks that lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
I’ve only spoken to Tanev once for a feature I was working on and he was very gracious with his time when I was covering the Maple Leafs for Yahoo Sports the past two seasons. You get the sense that he’s not a person particularly motivated by revenge, especially when he’s had such a stellar NHL career. He’s a cerebral player and often lauded as one of the smartest players in the league, which is evident from his playing style, where he breaks up odd-man rushes and exits the defensive zone with fluency.
What a full-circle moment it would be for Tanev, if he could help the Maple Leafs win their first Cup since 1967, two decades after Toronto and Ontario’s hockey community effectively blocked him from the highest tier available. Tanev played against Tavares in the GTHL and is good friends with his best friend, Sam Gagner — Toronto really is a small city when you think about it. And that’s perhaps part of it, too. Tanev is rooted in community and told Yahoo Sports last fall that he had a number of friends from East York attending Hockey Night in Canada at Scotiabank Arena when the Canucks and Flames came to town.
If Tanev reaches an extension with the Maple Leafs, it will be celebrated as a homecoming, but it’s atypical from the standard Toronto-born prodigy returns home angle that we crave as fans and editors alike. You Can’t Go Home Again, Chris Tanev, or perhaps you may like what you end up finding two decades removed from the craven junior circuit.

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