There’s always free agency: The case for a delayed Chris Tanev Toronto homecoming

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
Chris Tanev was acquired by the Dallas Stars on Wednesday evening from the Calgary Flames, much to the chagrin of a dozen fanbases. Tanev was widely considered the best available defenseman on this year’s market, a 34-year-old right-handed elite shot blocker with plus skating skills, who rarely makes mistakes in their own end. Dallas received universal praise for acquiring Tanev while getting Calgary and the New Jersey Devils to each retain 50 percent of his 2023-24 salary before he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent.
This would’ve been a perfect framework for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been reticent to trade their 2024 first-round pick with a relatively barren prospect pool, while Tanev would’ve been an ideal partner for Morgan Rielly with the currently operating an all-lefty defense corps. But the dream isn’t over just yet: Tanev’s contract indeed expires at the end of the year and if the Stars can’t sign him to a long-term deal, the Maple Leafs should pounce with some of their best resources: the trappings of nostalgia and a full-circle moment.
Tanev was widely rejected by Toronto’s sprawling, intense hockey community two decades ago and I’ve followed his career avidly. As a 10-year-old, Tanev starred for the North York Canadiens (now known as the Jr. Canadiens) U-10 AAA team alongside P.K. Subban (who was the best player in our age group until he was 13, then became criminally underrated, only to emerge as one of the best defensemen of the decade in the NHL) and an underaged Steven Stamkos. Tanev would later win a few more GTHL titles with the Toronto Red Wings but as the 1989-age group began to be scouted for the OHL and NCAA, he was overlooked as a minute, 5’6 blueliner and was cut before his U16 season — he’s not listed in the extensive 2005 OHL Draft Guide.
It is extremely uncommon for OHL-calibre prospects to play high school hockey, but Tanev played for East York Collegiate, before hitting a massive growth spurt, shooting up to 6’3 while playing for the academically rigorous Rochester Institute of Technology. Dave Gagner was working for the Vancouver Canucks at the time, recommended Tanev to the scouting staff and the rest is history. All of this to say, what a gigantic f— you it would be to the Toronto hockey community at-large for Tanev to return, playing for the Maple Leafs during an era where the current core is starved for the Stanley Cup, the pressure is at an all-time high to perform in the playoffs.
I spoke to Tanev briefly this year while covering the Maple Leafs for Yahoo Sports and he told me he had friends coming from East York to watch the Nov. 10, 2023 game where the Maple Leafs eventually emerged with a 5-4 shootout victory. Almost every player with ties to the Greater Toronto Area are inevitably linked to the Maple Leafs at some point in their career but Tanev eventually coming home to close out the latter stage of his career feels more plausible than the usual fan fiction.
The Stars are a leading Stanley Cup contender, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Jim Nill gets Tanev to sign an extension upon landing in the Lone Star State. There isn’t a state income tax, the weather is generally better and at the risk of sounding like a Texas tourism ad, there are some inherent advantages built in. We’re not here to disparage the Stars’ fan base either but Tanev is likely getting less fanfare than say, Arch Manning, who has thrown five passes for the Texas Longhorns. So now that we’ve delved into the world of pop psychology, would the quiet, understated Tanev embrace a hockey-mad market like Toronto or enjoy the taxation benefits in Dallas, while playing for a contending team. Again, all of this is moot if the Stars go on to win the Cup, but Tanev would be feted like no player since John Tavares upon returning home.
If the Maple Leafs are going to continue to contend for the Cup, a player like Tanev will always have value, even if his upcoming 35th birthday this fall makes some observers weary of injury, especially given his proclivity to throw himself in front of pucks. Tanev would be a perfect fit for this Maple Leafs team and that will remain true this summer.
Here’s to new beginnings. We’re sure the Stars are going to benefit greatly from Tanev’s sound decision-making, they absolutely ripped off the Flames in a bargain deal. But if it doesn’t work again, Chris Tanev, you can always come home again.

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