However, as Nyquist is under contract through next season, Tatar is a restricted free agent and, as such, is due to receive a qualifying offer in the next few weeks.
Extending a qualifying offer would, at minimum, allow the Red Wings to retain his negotiating rights, but is Tatar worth more than this perfunctory gesture?
The speedy forward produced 19 goals, 20 assists and a plus-12 rating in Detroit this past season. Tatar’s tenacity, creativity and naked enthusiasm for the game of ice hockey represent the kind of intangible assets that, coupled with his skill set, present a rare package that could be the envy of teams outside of Detroit.
Indeed, as Bleacher Report’s own Lyle Richardson recently suggested, Tatar could be the target of an offer sheet from a rival NHL team. Though general manager Ken Holland will surely extend a qualifying offer to Tatar in advance of the June 29 deadline, there’s no guarantee that Tatar will sign it, which would leave his future in Detroit in question.
To add some complexity to Tatar’s situation, because of his age (19) at the time he signed his original contract and the fact he has less than four years of NHL experience, he is not eligible for salary arbitration.
So, should Tatar not accept his qualifying offer, which CapGeek calculates would be $715,000 for a one-year contract, he may see signing an offer sheet as the only way to establish his true value. Given the relatively shallow unrestricted free-agent pool this summer and Tatar’s demonstrated talents, some teams may be willing to throw some relatively significant money and term into a deal to pluck the 23-year-old Slovakian out of Detroit.
Holland would of course have the opportunity to match the offer, but if the money and term are too rich for Detroit’s blood, Tatar could conceivably begin the 2014-15 season wearing another team’s sweater.
The circumstances surrounding Tatar make him ripe for poaching via an offer sheet, and that is reason enough for Holland to attempt to secure Tatar’s services via a long-term contract.
However, aside from his talent, his work ethic and his potentially dicey free-agency situation, Tatar has earned the right to be considered worth more than a simple qualifying offer.
As The Detroit News’ John Niyo documented prior to the start of this year’s playoffs, Tatar has been exceedingly patient in earning his roster spot in Detroit. From being promoted and demoted through no fault of his own during the 2012-13 season to making the team last season but being forced to sit in deference to less effective veterans, Tatar has remained the consummate professional.
“You have to be able to earn the coach’s trust, and at the start of the year I had to wait for my chance. My chance came, and I held it. You have to build that trust and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
To be sure, Tatar is still developing, and he’ll need to take his game to a higher level next season as part of that development. However, he should be doing so as an established part of Detroit’s future, secured via a multiyear deal. While establishing Tatar’s value is a bit tricky given the relatively small sample size of 100 NHL games played, there are some players who could be used as apt comparisons.
In fact, looking at current NHL players with cap hits at or below $3 million, one sees that Tatar is not entirely out of place when compared to fellow 23-year-olds in Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri or the New York Rangers’ Derek Stepan. Like Tatar, both Stepan and Kadri exhibit a ton of offensive skill and versatility yet do so as somewhat undersized players.
If the Detroit Red Wings view Tomas Tatar as a valuable roster player next season and an important part of their future in the seasons beyond, offering him a four-year contract that pays him roughly $3 million per season seems well within reason.