We haven’t heard much from Marc Bergevin and company on the trade front this season. Outside of the Marco Scandella acquisition — which was paired with the departure of Mikey Reilly — the Montreal Canadiens have remained rather quiet.
Bergevin has made it quite clear that he’s not interested in selling the farm to try and make the playoffs. In fact, his surprise acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk suggests that he might be trying to make the playoffs without having to give up any futures.
But the playoffs are a long-shot at best, and though Bergevin said he won’t be moving Shea Weber or Carey Price, he didn’t offer any such guarantee for other roster players. And one name that has been a hot topic of late among Canadiens fans is Tomas Tatar.
Selling high on a player that was essentially a throw-in piece of the Max Pacioretty trade is something many fans have pointed to as an ideal outcome. So as we have a nice break before the next game action for the Habs, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of doing exactly that.
The case for
The current contract he’s on is great, particularly within the context of what he’s brought to the team. He set a career high last year with 58 points, and he’s on pace to break the 70-point mark in 2020. All of this at an AAV of $5.3 million, and only $4.8 million against Montreal’s cap thanks to Vegas retaining a cool half-million from the Pacioretty trade.
Given that, why would you want to trade Tatar? Well, he will be 30-years-old at the signing of his next deal in 2021, and given his production he has a case for a sizable raise. Few could blame him for wanting to see what the open market would give him, as it would likely be his last chance at a big, long-term contract.
The Canadiens have a lot of young players that will need to be re-signed in the next few years; Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Victor Mete will all need to be signed. And you can even start thinking about Nick Suzuki, as his entry-level deal will have two seasons left after this year. In the long run, you have to think about whether signing Tatar after he turns 30 will impact your ability to lock down some important pieces.
Contending teams would certainly be interested in adding a potential 70-point player to their roster now, as a rental that still has an extra year left. They might be willing to give up some legitimately good futures for a resurgent player that they’d be able to lean on in not one, but two playoff runs. He’s not a conventional rental player, so the price could be a little higher thanks to that extra year.
Detroit received a first, second, and third-round pick when they traded Tatar to Vegas in 2018, at which time he had 28 points in 62 games. What is he worth now with 43 points in 50 games? I’d argue it is imperative to find out, and then decide if he’s worth more to the team’s future than the king’s ransom you may be getting for him.
Are the Canadiens Stanley Cup contenders right now? Barring a miraculous resurgence the answer is no, so you have to then ask whether Tatar would be important to contention sometime in the next five years. If the answer to that is also no, you may as well try to get that king’s ransom rather than lose him for nothing when he hits unrestricted free agency.
Selling Tatar now, at the deadline, or in the off-season would be the epitome of selling high, and given that he is essentially found money, the argument for cashing in on that renewed value is strong.
The case against
Trading Tatar is tantamount to admitting defeat for the year, and it doesn’t seem the brass is ready to do that. Regardless of where you stand on the Habs tanking versus fighting to make the playoffs, the latter would be harder than it already will be if the team’s leading scorer is traded away.
They probably won’t get anyone who immediately forms chemistry with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher the way Tatar has. He has even looked great with Kovalchuk on the right, so it’s fair to wonder whether it is wise to trade away a player who could be a part of a competitive lineup in the future. It’s not just about this season, Tatar could figure into the plans of a quick rebuild situation.
There is at least some reason to believe the Habs could be competitive as early as next year, so having a guy capable of scoring 70 points at under $5 million against the cap certainly wouldn’t hurt. Even if a trade is an inevitable outcome, there isn’t any rush to do it now. They can wait and see if the team turns a corner next year, and evaluate how important Tatar is to that iteration’s success.
Again, since the Habs aren’t contenders now, you have to ask if he’s part of an eventual contender over the next five years. If so, forget talking about a trade, they should be talking about an extension. There is also zero rush if going in that direction, so there’s plenty of time to evaluate how he’d fit in the future plans and come to terms on a deal if in fact he does.
He really found his game in Montreal, so making him part of the rebuild is an avenue that should be considered as much as a trade, provided that signing him doesn’t impede the signing of other important pieces.
I hate myself for writing this many words only to sit on the fence, but unfortunately it seems appropriate in this case. I wouldn’t make the deal now, because I think teams would part with more assets at the deadline when the arms race is really on for contending teams.
Bergevin and the players still seem to think that the playoffs are within reach. Mathematically, they’re not wrong, but it would take a herculean effort to make that dream a reality. It would also take such an effort in the other direction to finish behind the likes of Detroit and Los Angeles.
Trading Tatar is a tank move, and while tanking delivers better odds in the draft lottery, the Habs aren’t in a realistic position to finish last and get the best odds. Losing Tatar would make them worse, but not bad enough for last place behind the likes of Detroit.
So hold on. Put out some feelers and wait for a bidding war to commence. If the Golden Knights were willing to pay three draft picks for him when he was a 0.45 points-per-game player, I would love to see what contending teams would send for 0.86, his current clip. If the bidding war doesn’t materialize, his value either to the team or in a trade won’t decrease after a season where he’s probably hitting 70 points.
I personally think Tatar is going to ask for an unpalatable amount of money on his next deal. I can’t fault him for that, it’s part of the business, but it is for that reason I think the team is better off to cash in on his value at some point. The tougher question that I can’t quite answer is when they should do it.
I can’t stress enough that there is no rush. I personally believe the Habs should cash in on Tatar, but they have time to hold out for the perfect deal.