Under Pressure: Tomas Tatar

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.

Nobody expected the Vegas Golden Knights to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in their first season. Not only did they end up finishing fifth in the overall standings, they also made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. In the end, they were eliminated by the Washington Capitals, but there’s no denying that they had an incredible inaugural season.

So as the Golden Knights continued to exceed expectation, their general manager, George McPhee, felt it was necessary for them to add a major piece at the trade deadline. They were reportedly interested in Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, but that didn’t end up working out. So, instead, they decided to ship their first-rounder in 2018, their second-rounder in 2019 and their third-rounder in 2021 to the Detroit Red Wings for forward Tomas Tatar.

Tatar was supposed to give his new team a shot in the arm, but he never really fit in with Vegas. When he left Detroit, he had 16 goals and 28 points in 62 games (0.45 points-per-game). After a 20-game stint with the Golden Knights, he managed to pick up only four goals and two assists (0.3 points-per-game). Tatar also had a minus-11 rating during that stretch. Yikes.

[2017-18 Review | Breakthrough: Karlsson | 3 Questions]

Things didn’t get a whole lot better in the playoffs, either. He played in the first two games of the first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, but head coach Gerard Gallant made him a healthy scratch Games 3 and 4 of that series and in the first two games of the second-round series against the San Jose Sharks. Tatar then played in Games 3 and 4 against the Sharks, but was scratched, again, in the final two games of the series and in the first game of the Western Conference final against Winnipeg. He scored his only playoff goal when he got back into the lineup in Game 2. He also played in the following contest, but was then scratched the next five games.

In the end, he finished the postseason with a goal and an assist in eight games. Not great. McPhee didn’t make too many mistakes since taking over as GM of the Golden Knights, but the Tatar acquisition was one of them. He paid a steep price to get a forward that didn’t really contribute.

The Golden Knights aren’t up against the salary cap, but they still have to be concerned about Tatar $5.3 million per season for the next three years. He’s currently the third-highest paid player on the team behind Paul Stastny and Marc-Andre Fleury. He also has a no-trade clause. There’s clearly going to be some pressure on him to produce more than he did a year ago.

That’s not to say that he can’t have a rebound season because he definitely can. It just depends on what your expectations are for him. If the Golden Knights are looking for him to score 20 goals and 45-50 points, that’s realistic. If he does anything more than that, it would be considered a bonus. If he continues to struggle, they’ll be stuck with that contract for a while.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.