Canadiens Went as Far as They Could with Tatar

Thankfully, ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar has landed on his feet. He deserved as much, probably better in restrospect. Signing a two-year, $9 million deal with the New Jersey Devils, Tatar has officially moved on from the Habs, who unofficially moved on from him during the playoffs, after making him a healthy scratch throughout their run to the Stanley Cup Final, last playing in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tatar Leads Canadiens in Scoring

Remember, Tatar led the Canadiens in scoring during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season with a career-high 61 points. The previous season, his first with the Canadiens, he was no slouch either, with 25 goals and 58 points, a new career high at the time in its own right.

Tomas Tatar, James Reimer
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Furthermore, this is a guy who was seen as a throw-in to the trade that sent Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights, with at-the-time prospect Nick Suzuki being the undeniable centerpiece. As a result, it’s fair to say Tatar exceeded any and all expectations during his three seasons with the Canadiens, rediscovering his game to become a top-line left winger alongside Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher for a large part of his Habs tenure. A large part of that reason is how, coincidentally (or not), the Golden Knights had made Tatar a healthy scratch throughout their run to the Final in 2018, themselves.

After having acquired Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings for first, second and third-round picks at the trade deadline that season, then-Golden Knights general manager George McPhee had hoped to leverage the winger’s talents to a greater degree. So, it’s clearly more so a case of Tatar not meeting their expectations than him simply being pushed out of the lineup due to an exceptional amount of depth. The Golden Knights were also an expansion team in its inaugural season. While they were undeniably great, Tatar should have theoretically been able to carve out a niche as an offensive-minded forward without issue. He couldn’t.

Add it all up, including the four-year, $21 million extension Tatar had signed with the Red Wings, and it’s understandable why the Golden Knights probably saw the Canadiens taking on Tatar as a favor. At the very least, it was no big loss on their part as he simply wasn’t a fit. Or at least he wasn’t a fit in the mind of the coaching staff, meaning he wasn’t going to get used. That’s how the Canadiens must feel. That’s how Canadiens fans must objectively look at the situation.

Tatar vs. Hoffman

Yes, Tatar is a loss. Yes, he is an analytics darling, having led the entire NHL in expected goals percentage (xGF%) over the last three seasons (59.81%). However, if he’s not on the ice, he’s ultimately not worth the cap space he takes up, with the Canadiens effectively opting to replace Tatar with Mike Hoffman this offseason.

Mike Hoffman St. Louis Blues
Ex-St. Louis Blues forward Mike Hoffman – (Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images)

Despite the two playing the same position and Hoffman conceivably set to play on the same line with Gallagher too, they’re very different, though. Hoffman is a threat on the power play, whereas Tatar simply wasn’t. Also, despite showing up favorably according to several analytics, Hoffman is seen as a defensive liability that needs to be sheltered in order to be effective. So, why should Hoffman turn out any differently than Tatar?

The Canadiens made a purposeful decision to sign Hoffman, having done their homework on his defensive issues in the process (one would hope anyway). They must acknowledge internally that a) he needs to be deployed the right way to have a positive impact on this team and b) at 32 years of age the point at which he can theoretically be molded has long since past. If it doesn’t work out, it’s on the Canadiens and they’ll only have themselves to blame.

Canadiens Understandably Let Tatar Go

In contrast, it’s logical to assume the Canadiens needed to take on Tatar to get Suzuki. Maybe they were okay with taking him, maybe not, but ultimately they inherited a player who had just been made a healthy scratch throughout an entire playoff run. They knew this. As a result, it’s hard to believe Tatar would have been their first choice in terms of wingers to replace Pacioretty. And still they made the most of it. Both parties did, with Tatar having become an integral part of the team’s offense… until he was no longer.

It should be pointed out that, despite leading the Habs in scoring in 2019-20, Tatar struggled offensively in the bubble during the 2020 postseason. Over the course of this past regular season too, totaling just 10 goals and 30 points in 50 games. Ultimately his lone assist in the five games he played against the Leafs in Round 1, while disappointing, wasn’t surprising.

Overall, Tatar has six goals and 12 points in 40 career playoff games. Pacioretty, who had constantly been the subject of fan criticism due to a supposed lack of playoff production, had 10 goals and 19 points in 38 career playoff games before having been traded. He too is an analytics darling. So, any suggestion on the part of fans, who may have wanted Pacioretty gone because he wasn’t clutch enough, that the Canadiens should have found a way to keep Tatar? Nonsensical.

Max Pacioretty Vegas Golden Knights Shea Weber Montreal Canadiens
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty and Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber – (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For what it’s worth, Hoffman has 11 goals and 20 points in 33 career playoff games. Ultimately, for a team that just reached the Stanley Cup Final, standards are simply higher, as they should be. True, maybe the Canadiens don’t make the playoffs this coming season after rejoining a tougher Atlantic Division, but it won’t be because they let Tatar go.

After all, the Canadiens just barely made the playoffs this past season with him playing regularly. As a 30-year-old coming off a disappointing season, Tatar was trending downward. Maybe he picks his game up in new surroundings with the Devils. Hopefully he does, because no one should wish ill on him. The fact remains he wasn’t going to get much of a chance to with the Canadiens, making the mutual decision to move on an easy one. There should be no regrets, only gratitude for what the Habs got out of him during his memorable three seasons in Montreal.

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