At this point, most people know how Tomas Tatar came to be a member of the Montreal Canadiens. He wasn’t expected to add much to the Habs in terms of play on the ice after just going through a rough patch with the Vegas Golden Knights — a polite way of describing his tenure with the 2018 Western Conference champions.
Tatar was expected to be just passing through Montreal on a temporary stay, most likely becoming another chip to be traded away at the deadline during Montreal’s on-the-fly rebuild.
It turns out many of us were wrong. He became an integral part of the Canadiens’ turnaround last season by setting a new career high in points.
Within the Habs organization, he rediscovered the touch and drive that made him such an impactful player in his time with the Detroit Red Wings. His line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher was one of the best in the league last year. His combative nature, work ethic without the puck, impressive playmaking skills, and his way of controlling space and creating opportunities for his linemates made him key to the top line’s success.
Tatar drives a lot of value to the Canadiens, and there was nothing in his play last season to suggest he can’t continue to have a positive impact for at least the final two seasons of his contract. He should still be an important cog for the Habs as they push for the playoffs this year.
His value is high because of his bounce-back season. He showed how much he could mean to a team and what he could bring to the table on a daily basis. Yet, there is still a possibility that the team crashes and burns this season, or that a rookie steps up and shows he can fill the same role for the Habs.
If Montreal stumbles out of the gate or doesn’t make the playoffs again, the same question from the beginning of last season will be asked: should they keep Tatar or trade him? He has an additional year on his contract after this one. He will be 30 years old when it expires, and with quite a few players to re-sign for the Habs in 2021, he would end up the most probable choice to become a cap casualty.
On the other hand, as long as he’s a productive member of the team, the Canadiens may want to keep him around until the Seattle expansion draft in two years’ time and leave him as one of the options for a claim. By that time, several of their promising prospects will either be playing in the NHL or getting ready to do so, and he would likely be parting ways with the organization in one way or another as it is. It’s possible they could be in a position to send along a pick to ensure that outcome at the time, considering the depth of the prospect pool they have now, and especially the one they’ll possess after a 2020 draft for which the team currently hold 12 selections.
There are a lot of potential plays for the team, and none of them need to be decided in the immediate future with Tatar still committed for another two years. Much of it will depend on how he follows up his first year in Montreal, and the signs point to it being another quality performance for the Slovak.