It is not common that a team has a big signing out of free agency after the first day of the free agency period. However, the New Jersey Devils signed arguably the best forward still available on the open market. And he is a very good forward at that. The New Jersey Devils have just announced that they have signed forward Tomas Tatar to a two-season contract for $9 million. His cap hit will be $4.5 million dollars; he will be paid $3.75 million for next season and $5.25 million in the second season. Tatar will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this contract.
The news on Tatar has picked up on social media throughout the day. First, Slovakian reporter Tomáš Prokop tweeted in Slovak that Tatar should sign with the Devils but he did not know the details. Second, Puckpedia reported that he was signed for two seasons with a $4.5 million cap hit - and later referenced Tatar’s agency, Raze Sports for their confirmation. Third, David Pagnotta confirmed it on Twitter. Fourth, Elliott Friedman also confirmed it on Twitter. And now the Devils actually announced it. It has been an exciting past few hours for those who wished to see Tatar join the Devils - and disappointing for the fans who wished to see Tatar join their team.
Many fans were right to hope Tatar would join their team. Tomas Tatar is a really good winger. In terms of raw production, Tatar has been a consistent 20-goal scorer since putting up 19 in his first full season with Detroit back in 2013-14. The only exception was last season when he only had 10 in 50 games last season with Montreal. That be more of a function of how he was used since his shots on net dropped from 162 in 68 games in 2019-20 to 82 in 50 games in 2021. Even then, the 30-year old was able to put up 30 points in those 50 games, a rate that would have yielded 49 in a full 82-game season. I cannot think of many teams who could not use an additional scorer like that. The Devils now have him.
What makes Tatar more appealing are his 5-on-5 on-ice rates. They are marvelous. Fantastic, even. Splendid, if you will. Over the last three seasons, Tatar has one of the highest CF% rates in the entire NHL at 59.43% - second only to his teammate Brendan Gallagher according to Natural Stat Trick. The same also applied to SF% Tatar led the league in xGF% over the last three seasons with a 59.81% and SCF% with a 59.34%. He came second again in HDCF% at 60.93%, only a bit behind Marcus Foligno. What this all means is that in the last three seasons, when Tatar has been on the ice, Montreal has been incredibly dominant in the run of play. Not good. Not great. Dominant. Now, Montreal has become one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the last few seasons. New Jersey has not. It is unlikely that Tatar will perform such that the team is owning the puck for about 60% of all of his ice time. He may not be putting up elite-status on-ice rates anymore given the structure or lack there of with the Devils. But Tatar was a key reason why the Canadiens were so competitive and pesky and just plain strong in 5-on-5 play in the last three seasons. He can only help the Devils further in this regard. And the 29th place Devils can absolutely use a 5-on-5 force like Tatar to help them take the next step forward in 2021-22.
But what about the playoffs? Was he not scratched during the Canadiens’ 2021 playoff run? This was true for some of it. However, as JFresh noted on Twitter, that was more of a result of his line with Phillip Danault being used in a “shutdown” role and the unit going cold in the postseason. It was not because Tatar suddenly became a liability. Especially since Montreal barely made the postseason in 2021 and players like Tatar were a reason why they ended up bouncing in from a bubble position. I would encourage you to check out that Twitter thread as he further points out how great Tatar has been in 5-on-5 and that he has been excellent in transitional play. Which bodes really well for a Devils team that already has Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Ty Smith, occasional bits of brilliance from P.K. Subban and Damon Severson, and just added Dougie Hamilton. Also, I think the Devils should make the playoffs first before worrying about whether any player is or is not a “playoff performer.” The team needs to get there first. I am happy to say that Tatar should help the Devils get closer to that in what could be a really tough division.
I am also happy to say that the contract does not hinder the Devils’ future whatsoever. The Devils still have over $14 million in cap space after this contract. The commitment to Tatar is only for two seasons. The Devils could look very different and the amount of cap space they will have after the Kuokkanen signing (which will not be much) will not hinder any long term plans for re-signing or extending future free agents. This means the Devils do not need to throw Alexander Holtz, Graeme Clarke, Nolan Foote, or any other prospective forward into a top-six role and hope they can hold their own like Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen did. The Devils can take their time with them and move them up when they are closer to being ready. Tatar will give Lindy Ruff and his staff more options to set up lines. He could fit in very well as a winger to either Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. He could end up being a good compliment for Jesper Bratt, Sharangovich, or Kuokkanen. Provided that he is utilized, Tatar will provide the goods to help the team.
After the 2021 NHL Draft, Tom Fitzgerald stated to the media that he was looking for a “1B” goaltender, a quality defenseman, and a top-six forward. He has signed Jonathan Bernier, Dougie Hamilton, and Tomas Tatar. Check, check, and check. And he only has one RFA remaining in Kuokkanen, who will likely get a deal similar to Sharangovich - who was announced this morning. That may be it as the big needs have been met without spending an excessive amount of cap space. On paper, it has been a great offseason for Fitzgerald and the Devils. On the ice, we shall hope (once again) that it becomes a reality and the Devils will take a long-awaited step towards being a competitive, playoff-bound team once again. Today’s signing of Tatar should help with that.
I welcome Tomas Tatar to the New Jersey Devils organization; I wish him the very best in Newark.
I am a big fan of this signing. I hope you are as well. What do you think of the Devils signing Tomas Tatar? What do you think of the contract and its term? What do you expect from Tatar now that he is a Devil? Where would you want the Devils to line him up? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Tatar in the comments. Thank you for reading.