After the debacle the other night for the New Jersey Devils against Boston, in the recap, Jared made a good point about the lack of secondary scoring on the team, and he wrote that Tomas Tatar has scored 9 points over his last 31 games, a very poor pace for someone who is still 31 years old and just a couple short years ago was producing close to a point per game in Montreal. In 2019-20, Tatar produced 61 points in 68 games, a very, very good pace. Last season he was only at 30 points in 50 games played, but still was well over a half point per game and there was reason to think a bounce back was likely.
But that has clearly not occurred this season. Instead, he has continued his slide downwards. Across 64 games, Tatar has produced 12 goals and 14 assists for a lowly 26 points. That is scoring at a rate of 0.4 points per game. Instead of the Devils gaining a strong secondary scoring, shoot-first kind of winger, the Devils have gotten someone who has underperformed his contract to a large degree. The Devils have gotten some great productivity from those not earning much. Jesper Bratt only makes $2.75 million this year and has been a beast. Jack Hughes, of course, is on the last year of his ELC making less than a million. But Tatar, this season, is the second highest paid forward on the team. He is earning a cool $4.5 million this year. The only forward making more is Nico Hischier. Hughes will be earning more than that next year, but for now, Tatar takes the #2 position in terms of contracts. And he has not come close to producing to that number.
If you think about it, his 26 points at this point equate to a little over $173k per point. Now, I would hope he produces some more points in the remaining games this year, but if he remains on his 0.4 points per game pace, that would put him at approximately 33 points to end the season. That would mean the Devils would pay him over $136k per point produced. Simply put, that is not great return on investment.
Now, to be fair, not all of his numbers are terrible. Tatar has a 53.45 CF% this season, good for third on the team for players with at least 200 5v5 minutes. That equates to a +3.66 relative CF%, second best, only behind Jesper Bratt. His xGF is also positive, although in comparative purposes is not as good as his possession. He currently has a 51.72 xGF%, ranked 11th on the team, but still a positive number and definitively above 50%. And that still equates to a positive relative xGF%, if only barely, as he sits at +0.42%.
With those numbers, you could claim that his game has not been bad, he just has not been able to finish and get those points. And it would be a fair argument. Tatar currently has a shooting percentage of 10.5%, below his career average of 12.8%. He is not finishing quite as well as he normally does, and something like shooting percentage should come back to the mean over time, so you would expect him to be able to generate more points with some better puck luck. However, 10.5% is still not a terribly low number, I am not sure that it is enough to qualify him as being snakebitten. Plus, the Devils paid this man that money to produce points and to finish, something this offense has lacked for most of the last decade. Having good underlying numbers but not getting the puck in the net is not the best excuse when you are being paid specifically to light the lamp or help others to do the same.
The team, and us fans, have to hope that Tatar has some sort of Andreas Johnsson turnaround next season. Not that Johnsson has been amazing this year, but his 30 points in 60 games represents a serious improvement on what he did the year before. And at 27, there is a chance he could get a little better and truly be someone who can produce bottom 6 numbers and be a quality contributor. But with Tatar, at 31, we are not looking for growth, but simply a return to what he has shown he can do in the past. And he is not being paid to be a bottom 6 chip in contributor, but a top 6 winger who can produce quality points night in and night out alongside Hischier or Hughes. He has a lot to show us next season that he can be the person he was signed to be. The underlying numbers tell us that it is possible, but he has to make that happen and finish his chances. Let’s hope that can happen.