Why Tomas Tatar is the Best Bargain in the NHL

Shortly after Tomas Tatar signed his three-year, $8.25 million deal, I wrote a piece explaining why the deal was a clear win for Detroit. Now more than halfway into the first season of that deal, the Wings look to have committed grand larceny. The “Super Slovakian” has remained red-hot in his second full year with the team, already scoring 18 goals and 29 points through 44 games. Those numbers put the 24-year old forward on pace for 34 goals and 54 points. Here’s a stat you may not be ready for: the last time a Red Wings forward scored 30 or more goals in a season was 2008-2009 when Marian Hossa (40 goals),  Johan Franzen (34), Pavel Datsyuk (32), and Henrik Zetterberg (31) all topped the mark. How has the veteran of a meager 100 career NHL games entering this season been so successful thus far?

(Tom Turk/The Hockey Writers)
Tomas Tatar displaying his deft stickhandling in the 2014 Winter Classic (Tom Turk/The Hockey Writers)

Tatar’s Possession Numbers

Of all forwards who have played at least 200 minutes of 5v5 time this season, guess who leads the NHL in Corsi For%? If you picked #21 of the Red and White, you would be correct. Tatar leads all NHL forwards with a 5v5 Corsi For% of 60.0%. Granted that statistic doesn’t mean too much if I don’t frame it with the fraction of shifts he starts in the offensive zone vs. the defensive zone (61.5%), the Corsi For% of his teammates (56.6%), and the Corsi For% of his opponents (48.5%). So while those stats may put a slight blemish on his Corsi For%, the possession numbers still remain impressive.

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Image from: War-On-Ice 

This graph here shows all Red Wings forwards from 2013-present. The X-axis is Corsi For%, the Y-axis is On-Ice Goals For%, the color of the circle represents Relative Corsi For%, and the size of the circle represents time on ice. Essentially, you want to be in the upper, righthand corner of the graph, with a big, dark blue circle. You can see that Tatar tops the team in Corsi For%, is in the top-five in Goals For%, and has one of the darkest blue circles.

A big reason for Tatar’s high Corsi For% has to do with his ability to create individual chances. After finishing fourth on the team in 5v5 individual Corsi attempts per 60 minutes among players who played at least 100 minutes last season, Tatar leads the team this season with an impressive 15.99 Corsi attempts/60 minutes. He has dazzled fans with his quick hands and endless compete. More importantly, he seems to have corrected his tendency to make one too many moves and he is now shooting the puck more, evidenced by his team-leading individual Corsi attempts/60 minutes.

Tatar’s “Bang for the Buck”

As I stated before, Tatar’s contract carries a cap hit of $2.75 million for this year and the next two seasons. Of all players who have a $2 million or higher cap hit, Tatar ranks 2nd in goals/$1 million.

Player Team Cap Hit Goals/$1 Million
Colin Wilson Nashville $2,000,000 7.000
Tomas Tatar Detroit $2,750,000 6.545
Craig Smith Nashville $2,000,000 6.500
Jaden Schwartz St. Louis $2,350,000 6.383
Marcus Johansson Washington $2,000,000 6.000
Nick Foligno Columbus $3,083,000 5.838
Mikkel Boedker Arizona $2,550,000 5.490
Brock Nelson NYI $2,825,000 5.310
Nino Niederreiter NYI $2,667,000 5.250
Tyler Johnson TBL $3,333,000 5.100

Data from nhlnumbers.com

If that doesn’t get you excited as a Red Wings fan, maybe this fact will – after Tatar’s current contract expires, he will become a restricted free agent, meaning that the Wings will have the opportunity to match any offer another team tries to give Tatar. Essentially, they are getting all of this production now AND have the inside track to re-signing him when his contract expires in 2017. At that time, Tatar will be 26 years old and in the prime of his career. The Wings will be able to evaluate whether or not they want to make him a big offer, match another teams offer, or get compensation if another team decides to go after him.

Evaluating Tatar’s Growth Moving Forward

In my article discussing the contract this summer, I noted that Tatar was very sheltered last season, starting more than 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone and facing the 4th lowest competition of all Detroit forwards. This season, Mike Babcock has slowly put Tatar in tougher situations as he has started 38.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone this season compared to the 40.9% last season. Tatar has faced a lower level of competition this season when looking at Corsi For% of his opponents (48.5% this season vs. 49.4% last season). I think over the course of the next two and a half seasons, this is where the Wings will have to evaluate Tatar.

(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Tomas Tatar and Gus Nyquist will prove to be a nightmare tandem for the Red Wings opposition for years to come (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

 

He is clearly a dynamic forward that brings a lot to the offensive side of the puck. And while he’s drawn comparisons to Datsyuk for his stickhandling, Tatar is far behind Datsyuk’s defensive game. I have been a big advocate of Detroit using their young guns line against the top opposition to see if they are able to maintain their dominating puck possession numbers against a higher level of competition. If the Wings can evaluate how Tatar performs against stronger competition over the next two years, they will be able to determine if he is worth the $5-6 million/year he will likely command when his current contract expires. Tatar’s work ethic and drive to get better with each game makes me think that he’s more than capable of developing this side of his game. But all that is for a later conversation and discussion. For now, at Tatar’s current production on his current contract, I firmly believe that this is one of the best deals handed out by Ken Holland in recent memory.