Mid-August is never a fun time for the NHL offseason. We’re still well over a month from training camp and last season feels like a distant memory. Aside from the Erik Karlsson news, we’re through the thick of NHL free agency and most teams have a general idea of what their roster will look like at this point.
However, there are still some appealing players available on the market and one of them is previous New Jersey Devils winger Tomas Tatar. Tatar has been linked to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but fans have picked up on Tatar still skating in full Devils equipment. I figured it would be something to at least touch on.
If GM Tom Fitzgerald were to be interested in bringing Tatar back on a team-friendly one-year deal to bolster their top-nine, the Devils would most likely have to shed salary or move some money around to make it work. Keep in mind, per CapFriendly, the Devils only have $1,919,167 remaining in cap space.
Though it’s unlikely, today we will discuss what the positives and negatives of bringing Tatar back on a short-term deal could mean.
Running it Back with Tomas Tatar: Pros and Cons
Elite top 9
It’s clear the Devils have an elite top six, but GM Tom Fitzgerald stressed the importance of also having an elite top nine. Finding a way to bring Tatar back would absolutely bolster the Devils third line and fill the gap at the RW3 position if Alexander Holtz was not ready for that role. Having a third line of Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, and Tatar would be simply dominant.
My favorite attribute about Tatar is his 5v5 metrics, New Jersey outscored their opponents 61-28 with Tatar on the ice at 5v5.
There’s no question Tatar has very strong on-ice impacts at even strength, he has the playmaking ability to get himself in open areas of the ice and the hockey sense to find an open teammate or bury the puck if needed. Tatar is suitable for 15-25 goals depending on who he is playing with.
Tatar’s defensive game is quite strong as well. He finished the season with a +33-goal differential at full strength finishing second on the team to defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
Tatar finished last season with an even-strength defense of –0.29 xGA/60 which is impressive.
Moving Holtz Out of the Lineup
For quite some time now, Devils fans have been foaming at the mouth to get elite shooter, Alex Holtz on the big club. One can argue he already has the best shot on the team.
Adding Tatar would come at the price of Holtz either being sent back to Utica to play with the Comets or at least starting the season as the extra forward and watching from the box.
The Devils have already been down this road with Holtz, and it would probably be the worst scenario for his confidence and development.
Bust may be harsh but am I wrong? When the Devils originally signed Tatar, he was already coming off a dreadful playoff performance with the Montreal Canadians where he hardly even played due to his lack of performance.
Though Tatar’s regular season numbers spiked last year, he still looked nonexistent come playoff time. In 12 playoff games, Tatar posted only one goal and zero assists combining for an abysmal –7 +/-. Tatar finished with 4.58 primary shot contributions at 5v5 (well below his regular season average), and his play-driving ability plummeted to a 48% xGF% over 12 games.
If the Devils were to add Tatar, there’s no question they would have to move money around to even make a team-friendly deal work. This kind of move is possible by far, but I’m not convinced it would be in their best interest.
The Devils have just under $2M in cap space, the remaining money should be used at the trade deadline in reserve for injury. Let’s face it, injuries are inevitable, and the Devils don’t know what obstacles they may have to hurdle at the trade deadline.
This one kind of goes with the salary cap narrative but Fitzgerald has stressed over the offseason that he wanted to bring in another starting-caliber goaltender. Fitzy prefers to have Akira Schmid play a full season at the AHL level with the Utica Comets to get in the habit of taking on a full workload.
With the addition of Tatar, there would be no chance the Devils could possibly manage to add another goaltender to fill in the depth behind Vitek Vanecek.
Though the addition of Tatar would add tremendous depth and value to the Devils top nine, it seems the negatives heavily outweigh the positives in this case. Sure, adding Tatar on a team-friendly deal for another season would make the Devils’ offense dangerous, but there’s more value in adding depth to other areas or simply waiting until the trade deadline for team needs.
Not to mention, do we really want to see Holtz in the press box again? I firmly believe it’s finally Holtz season and this is his time to shine! Don’t expect to see Tatar in a Devil uniform again come the start of training camp.
Main Image: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports