Penguins sign ‘fast and tenacious’ winger Brandon Tanev
Becoming harder to play against can be expensive.
That was the lesson general manager Jim Rutherford and the Pittsburgh Penguins learned as the NHL’s free-agent signing period opened Monday afternoon.
The Penguins signed 27-year-old winger Brandon Tanev to a six-year deal — the longest the Penguins ever have handed out in free agency — worth $21 million.
Will Tanev make the Penguins harder to play against?
That seems like a safe bet.
He combines speed, energy and defensive diligence with a dose of skill and isn’t a drain on a team’s possession game.
He was one of only four players in the NHL last season who delivered 200-plus hits, averaged at least 2 minutes of ice time on the penalty kill per game and hit double-digits in goals.
“I think I’m a very physical and fast and tenacious player,” Tanev said. “I look forward to bringing that style of play to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That being said, I look at the lineup and the great group of core players they have here and I’m very excited to be working with them and being a part of this organization. It’s an extremely exciting time.”
To secure Tanev’s positive attributes, Rutherford had to hand out a long, lucrative contract to a bottom-six forward. That’s not something GMs generally like to do, but given the circumstances, Rutherford said he felt he had little choice.
“We felt so strong about Tanev that we were willing to go as far as we had to go to make sure we got him,” Rutherford said. “You never know with any player, the term of the contract, whether it works, how long it’s going to work, but it’s what you have to do to get the player.”
With Tanev in the fold, the Penguins have about $2.3 million of salary-cap space with 20 players under contract. They still have to re-sign restricted free agents Marcus Pettersson on defense and Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger at forward.
That math doesn’t add up, so the Penguins will have to make a trade to shave a few million off their payroll at some point this summer.
“There’s a good chance we will have to make another move, yes,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford isn’t itching to make a move to improve his defense corps, however. As he has all offseason, he gave an endorsement of the group on the blue line Monday afternoon.
“My point is, the structure of our defense, where we’ve got the right shots where they should be and the left shots where they should be, is what I like,” Rutherford said. “Can we make it better? Sure, you can always make your defense better. I’m not saying it’s the best defense in the league. But it’s a solid defense, and it’s a good-enough defense. (Juuso) Riikola, going into his second year, certainly we feel he’ll be better. He’ll step up. He’ll push for one of those regular spots. So, at this point in time, I’m comfortable with our defense.”
The addition to Tanev fits the philosophy Rutherford has followed throughout the offseason as he looks to help his team bounce back from a humiliating first-round playoff exit.
Bringing in Tanev, Alex Galchenyuk and Dominik Kahun and trading away Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta makes the Penguins younger, faster and more abrasive — but not necessarily more talented.
“We’ve changed the make-up of our team,” Rutherford said. “Now it’s training camp and the time where the coach will have to work hard to bring it all together because you’ve got a few new guys. Where does everybody fit?”
Fit is an important factor for Tanev.
Playing mostly alongside rangy center Adam Lowry, he had a breakout season last year, recording 14 goals and 29 points in 80 games.
“I’m very excited to continue that trend,” Tanev said, “and there’s a great opportunity in Pittsburgh.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .