Not all of the New Jersey Devils forwards have found their offensive rhythm to start the 2023-24 season, and there’s good reason for that. From last year to this year, the team has had a lot of turnover, and one departed player might be making all the difference for stars like Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer.
Tomas Tatar’s Devils tenure was a tumultuous one, but his 48-point campaign last regular season was the clear highlight. Ultimately, Tatar’s one goal (and only point) in the 12-game playoff run left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths and likely served as the driving force behind his untimely departure. Realistically speaking, Tatar’s goal was an important one, and no Devils player – besides maybe Jack Hughes – can say they played well in that playoff run anyway. It was a collection of moments, and the Slovakian forward had one of his own no matter how bad he might’ve played.
Now playing for another contender in the Colorado Avalanche, Tatar reunites with his former Devils teammate Miles Wood. However, it is Tatar – not Wood – who finds themselves watching from the press box this early in the season.
The 32-year-old served as a healthy scratch in the Avalanche’s game against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 1, and he’s currently averaging just 12:15 of ice time – his lowest since becoming an NHL regular a decade ago. Tatar hasn’t lit the lamp himself yet, but he does have four assists despite the limited ice time and playing in a bottom-six role.
We’ll probably never know why Tatar left the Devils in the first place, but we can deduct that contractual demands were a factor; the former Montreal Canadien remained a free agent all the way until Sept. 12. After all that, Tatar was only able to fetch a one-year, $1.5 million contract and is already on the outside looking in with the Avalanche.
Can the Devils bring Tatar back? And should they?
At this point, it’s probably unlikely the Avalanche are willing to deal Tatar for the same reason the Devils would want him back – depth. Without Tatar and Jonathan Drouin in their lineup, Colorado is rolling with Riley Tufte and Kurtis MacDermid. Those aren’t two guys you want to be regulars if your goal is to contend for a Stanley Cup.
Everybody has a price, though, and maybe the Devils can persuade the Avalanche into doing something like Chris Tierney and a conditional pick with conditions based on games played, for example. Although Tierney is currently the Devils’ Plan C at center with Hischier out, players like Mercer, Erik Haula, Curtis Lazar, and even Nathan Bastian can all play center if/when needed.
And when Tatar was still with the Devils, he helped form some of the best lines in all of hockey. Amongst lines that played at least 100 minutes together, a line of Tatar, Hischier, and Mercer had an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 64.5 percent – good for eight-best in all of hockey. The seventh-best? Tatar, Hischier, and Fabian Zetterlund had an xG% of 65.6 percent.
Scrolling further down the list, a line of Tatar, Hischier, and Jesper Bratt was 21st in the league at 62.4 percent.
After a promising start, it seems like Lindy Ruff’s love-hate relationship with Alexander Holtz rages on, so it’s not like Holtz is a player that would keep Tatar out of the Devils’ lineup. And based on the results we saw last season, it’s hard not to see a fit for the cagey vet in his old threads.
*Advanced stats credit of MoneyPuck
Concerns about Tatar’s postseason performance are certainly warranted but remember: an improved regular season performance impacts the playoff seeding, which greatly affects how said playoffs might play out. With a more experienced team around him this time, Tatar could be given a second chance at life in the spring. A move like this should definitely draw consideration from New Jersey’s front office.