New Jersey Devils: Did Tomas Tatar Cost Himself An Extension With Playoff Performance?

New Jersey Devils left wing Tomas Tatar (90): Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils left wing Tomas Tatar (90): Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /
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Despite a strong second season with the New Jersey Devils, Tomas Tatar’s future is up in the air on the heels of a poor playoff performance. Tatar signed a two-year deal with the Devils in the 2021 offseason. The Devils’ front office has a lot of decisions to make this offseason. One move that now seems unlikely is extending Tomas Tatar.

The veteran forward Tatar’s importance to this young Devils team should not be undermined. After a lackluster first season with the team in 2021-22, where he had 30 points, Tatar was determined to make an impact in 2022-23 in the pursuit of earning a new contract. He succeeded in making that impact in the regular season.

Early in the season, Dan Rice of Pucks and Pitchforks stated, “If Tatar can provide 15-20 goals and get close to his career-high point total of 61 (2019-20 with Montreal), the Devils should be in good shape.” Tatar was well under his career-high point total with 48 points, but he did score 20 goals. His +/- was 41, and his shooting percentage was 13.1%, his best in three years. Throughout the season, Tatar kept the puck in the offensive zone and capitalized on opportunities. Lindy Ruff shuffled lines around a lot, trying to find the right mix at the right moment. Wherever Tatar played, he had chemistry with his linemates, especially Nico Hischier. Tatar consistently found ways to contribute.

While Tatar played well in the 2022-23 regular season, he was practically invisible during most of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With many young players on the roster, the Devils were hoping to lean on the playoff experience of veteran presences like Tatar, Erik Haula, and Ondrej Palat.

In 12 playoff games this season, Tatar posted just one goal and zero assists with a -7 +/-. His most noticeable moment was the goal he scored thanks to a hard-fought assist from John Marino in Game 7 of Round 1 against the New York Rangers.

There was hope his Game 7 momentum would carry over into Round 2, but Tatar only took two shots on goal in the series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He failed to record a point in the series and didn’t do much to create chances. Tatar was fined $5,000 for high-sticking Sebastian Aho in retaliation for cross-checking during Game 3 against the Canes. There really isn’t much else to say about what he did in the playoffs. Although his career playoff numbers aren’t stellar, the Devils expected more from Tatar.

On the day of the Devils’ exit interviews after their playoff run ended, Tatar was noticeably absent. In a tweet, James Nichols clarified that Tatar had been there but didn’t realize he was supposed to see the media before he left. It seems unlikely that a veteran didn’t know he was supposed to stay after cleaning out his locker. This led to speculation that perhaps Tatar didn’t stay because he knows the unlikelihood of a new contract with the Devils. His puzzling absence from interviews makes it seem more likely that Tatar cleaned out his Devils locker for the last time.

At 32, Tatar has gas left in the tank and should have some solid years of hockey still ahead of him. He may be looking for a longer-term deal than the Devils are willing to give him at this point, so he might find a better deal elsewhere. Tatar was part of an impressive Devils team who followed a 27-win season with a franchise-high 52-win season. General manager Tom Fitzgerald will be moving some pieces around, but he’ll likely want to keep as much of this strong group together as possible. This works in Tatar’s favor, as does having a bounce-back year in his second season with the team, but his poor playoff performance ended his year on a sour note.

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Will Tomas Tatar be back in New Jersey next season? It’s too soon to know for sure. The Devils have other players they want to lock down first, like Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier. It’s a long offseason, but it won’t be a big surprise if Tomas Tatar is in a different uniform in 2023-24.