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Can We Expect Positive Regression From Tatar?

Last season, Tatar did not live up to the free agent contract that he signed over the summer. Is there hope for positive regression towards what Devils fans hoped for last year?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Seattle Kraken Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Tomas Tatar was not really who the New Jersey Devils wanted him to be when they signed him to that 2 year, $9 million deal last offseason. He ended the year with 15 goals and 15 assists across 76 games played, good for just under 0.4 points per game (0.395 to be more precise). This is compared to his career from 2013-2021 when he produced 171 goals and 396 total points across 598 games, which equates to just over 0.66 points per game. That extra quarter point per game adds up over the course of a full season. You would be looking at an extra 20-21 extra points out of him last year if that were the case. 50-51 points from Tatar over a full season is what you expected when you signed him to that deal, and you probably wouldn’t be disappointed with that.

Now, what stats help to showcase that decline last year? Here are some stats I looked through that show a dip compared to the other forwards on the team last year. The following chart will show some of those stats and the rank compares him to other forwards on the team who played at least 500 minutes at 5v5. There were 13 forwards who made that list last year. Info and data from Natural Stat Trick.

The first one is rather interesting. Tatar’s on ice shooting percentage at 5v5 was a very low 6.8%. That isn’t just for him, but for the Devils as a team when he was on the ice. This is compared to Tatar himself, who had a 10.62 sh% at 5 on 5. That personal shooting percentage was also ranked 9th out of 13, so it was low compared to the forward group on the team, and it was down as compared to his career 12.9 sh%. So he definitely lost some goals from a shooting percentage that was over 2% below his career average. But that is still way more normal than the on ice 6.8%. That would have had a significant effect on his potential assists. If the team around him was shooting at such a low rate of success, his passes would not have been leading to goals at the usual rate, meaning he definitely saw a dip in assists this year thanks to that. Take away a couple of goals from his lower shooting percentage, and take away even more assists thanks to the low on ice shooting percentage, and you start to make up the lost points.

Next, and this relates to the on ice shooting percentage to some degree, the Devils had a really low Goals For percentage when he was on the ice, to the tune of 39.77%. This is compared to the team as a whole rocking a 45.59 GF%, so it was a definitive drop when Tatar was on the ice. To put that in even more perspective, the worst team in the league last year in GF%, Arizona, was at 41.53%, so Tatar’s number is almost 2% lower than the worst team. The Devils were woefully bad at score effects when he was on the ice. This can connect with the on ice shooting percentage I mentioned as if they were snakebitten when he was out there, but the defense was the usual, then it would lead to more goals against, fewer goals for, and a worse percentage. Really, it is just another indicator that Tatar’s points were suppressed not only due to his own lack of scoring but also from his teammates, which certainly lowered his assist total.

And finally, the easiest indicator that he might not have been as lucky as you would have expected when out there is his PDO. Only 1 forward had a lower PDO than him, and his number of 0.962 is very, very unlucky. If that number was closer to luck neutral 1.000, his point total would have undoubtedly been higher. Maybe not at the 50+ point range, but well above the 30 that he got.

Now, who was Tatar playing with last year? Here are the forwards he played at least 200 minutes with, again from Natural Stat Trick:

In this sense, he had a couple of good linemates in Hischier and Mercer that would have helped him. However, playing significant minutes with Zacha and Johnsson probably was not great for his chances of producing points. You would have to think that more time alongside Mercer or Hischier next year would give him a great chance to improve his chances and get him closer to the 0.66 points per game that NJ was hoping for when they signed him. More time with Johnsson, however, might depress his number more.

Overall, looking at these numbers, there are some chances for positive regression towards career norms, although maybe not enough to get him another 20+ points. A positive movement in on ice shooting percentage for NJ while he is out there would increase his point totals simply from increased odds of getting assists or an extra goal here or there. A jump in his personal shooting percentage back towards career averages would add on a couple of more goals over the course of the season as well. Throw both of those together, and his PDO should positively regress as well. However, I am not sure if that is enough to get him over 50 points next season. To get that, he would need more time with better linemates on the top 6 where he could get stronger opportunities to produce goals. He was brought in to score, and last year that did not happen. It would be understandable if the coaching staff wants to strand him on the third line this year to just ride out his contract, but if they want to get the Tatar they were hoping for, giving him another chance on the second line with Nico might do wonders for him.