Tomas Tatar Threatens To Bolt To the KHL


Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s signing of Dan Cleary combined with comments from Tomas Tatar have made a complicated situation significantly more complicated.

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reported yesterday that Tatar’s uphill battle to crack the roster for the 2013-2014 season just got more difficult with the Red Wings now looking at clearing three forwards instead of two after signing Dan Cleary to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. While some of the fan base is quite upset  at this move, I’m personally a bit moved to see Cleary turn down job security and significantly more money to attempt to continue wearing the Winged Wheel. Whether that’s a good move for the team or not remains to be seen.

But another group that seems to be very upset about this move seems to be the younger of the 17 forwards the Red Wings are considering placing on a roster that need only carry 14. Specifically, 22 year old Tomas Tatar. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, please allow me to share with you his first NHL goal.

That smile and enthusiasm seems to be fading, however. Helene St. James elaborates:

"Tatar, 22, is at the point in his career when he has to make the Wings, because he can’t be sent down without waivers. He appeared in 18 games last season for the Wings, producing four goals and three assists, but mostly starred at the AHL level with the Griffins, where he collected 23 goals and 26 assists in 61 games, followed by 21 points in 24 games as he helped Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup."

Yes it seems the Wings enjoyed the ability to shuttle Tatar back and forth between the AHL and NHL when convenient.  This gives the Wings a difficult decision to make- Do you give him a roster spot or roll the dice by sending him down and hoping another team doesn’t claim him? (and roll the dice again if you have to call him up). A quick trip to Cap Geek reveals that Tatar could be tempting to a number of teams with his $840,000 cap hit, especially give his age and potential to produce. I don’t think for a second a young team like the Flames or Panthers would pass him up.

Tatar made it perfectly clear he wants to be on the big team this year and has no interest in going back to Grand Rapids. In an interview with Sarah Lindenau as a part of her superb coverage of training camp at The Left Wing Lock (not to be confused with the fantasy hockey site Tatar made it clear just how disinterested he is in the AHL at this point.

"“I have been in the AHL for four years and we won a Calder Cup,” Tatar said. “I love Grand Rapids, but I don’t  think it makes sense for me to be in that league anymore. I want to play in the NHL, but if there is no room with the Red Wings then hopefully another team picks me up on waivers or I am traded.”"

And then he made it real interesting…

"Tatar’s agent has also fielded multiple calls from the KHL over the summer and if he can’t land an NHL job then playing in Europe is a strong consideration for the diminutive forward.“I have lots of options and teams in the KHL have called asking about my plans for this season,” he said. “I want to do my best to make the NHL, but if that doesn’t happen then I will probably play in Russia.”"

Well then. NHL or bust it seems. I’ve never been to Grand Rapids but I can’t imagine the town is THAT bad.

Personally, I don’t know what to think of this comment. On the one hand, I can empathize. Tatar is coming off a Calder Cup victory in which he was a key piece of that championship team. He’s clearly an asset that several teams would be interested in having and if his team won’t have him on the roster, shouldn’t it be fair that another NHL team that will have him on the roster get to provide that opportunity? Should no team claim him off waivers, one could argue he’d face a higher level of competition and a chance to showcase his skills in the KHL (I didn’t say it was a good argument, I just said one could argue. I mean, have you seen that goaltending?)

On the other hand, who the hell does this kid think he is? It’s never really been the Red Wings way to draft a kid and put him in the line up as soon as there’s a spot for him. I get the feeling Tatar would find little sympathy on this Wings’ roster after playing a whooping four seasons in the AHL.(Not to be confused, of course, with THE four seasons) Perhaps he should ask Niklas Kronwall what it’s like to be drafted and wait six seasons before getting a full-time NHL gig. Goalie Jimmy Howard might tell him what it’s like to wait your chance, as he did the same for six seasons after being drafted. Hell if Pavel Datsyuk doesn’t get a spot on the roster right after being drafted then Tomas Tatar can cool his jets.

Additionally, in a sport that’s more concerned with the logo on the front than the name on the back, hockey players are generally expected to go where they are considered to be needed.  Tatar talking about the KHL after one day of camp don’t bode well for a ‘logo on the front’ mentality. If he really thinks time in the KHL could boost his NHL career like it did for Jiri Hudler, he should seriously consider the cautionary tale of Alex Radulov.

This doesn’t make him less essential to the team’s future. Scorers like him are vital to the continued success of the Red Wings because guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg certainly aren’t getting any younger. Tatar should also remember that he’s far from the only young gun that feels like he belongs on this roster though. Gustav Nyquist and Dan DeKeyser have yet to experience a full season on an NHL level, and you could even argue that Brendan Smith hasn’t either, although that’s partially due to last year’s lockout. They aren’t low-quality players, some of them could very well start on a team like Buffalo or Carolina. But this is the Red Wings way. Stick them in the AHL, let them cook a while, and don’t take them out until they’re overdone. And with a playoff streak like the Wings’, I’m not going to argue. and if Tatar thinks he knows better than the Red Wings way, then perhaps it’s time to say “Good day sir!”.

Lastly, I’m really sick and tired of this “Give me what I want or I’m going to the KHL” garbage. I’m sick of players trying to use it as leverage, whether it be Ilya Kovalchuk just walking away from a contract without any repercussions for him or his team, or Sergei Bobrovsky using it as leverage for an inflated deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets after one good season (not to be confused, of course, with the other Blue Jackets’ goalie who had one good season.)

Steve Mason! Remember him?Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The fact of the matter is, Tatar may just be a symptom of non-North Americans becoming less interested in the NHL. Jeff Marek noted on the Marek Vs Wyshynski podcast last season that by the second round of the playoffs, only four Russian players remained (Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin of the Pens, Slava Voynov of the Kings, and Sergei Gonchar of the Sens). Although Slovak, Tatar may see the same appeal in the KHL as a number of middle-of-the-pack hockey players seem to have seen. The appeal of the NHL is obvious. Wealth, elite player status, international fame, this is why players come from the other side of the planet to play in North America. But if you feel like you’ve put in your time and you aren’t going to get any of those things that come with playing in North America, there’s another professional league that’s closer to home, and they may even pay you better. Seems awfully tempting, and if Tatar though the KHL could some day be the NHL’s equal, he wouldn’t be the only one.

Tatar’s comments may have signed his ticket out of town. It’s also possible that his comments to Ms. Lindenau were made in the heat of the moment, a moment where he is very frustrated, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I try my best to put myself in someone else’s shoes in such a situation as this, and although I could never compare to being an elite athlete, I try to relate.

I’m a chemist by trade. I worked very hard for several years to become a good pharmaceutical chemist. If there was some sort of elite organization of pharmaceutical chemists in Russia, I’d probably do everything I could to join it, hopefully get accepted, become famous, and get tons of money to provide for myself and my family or future family. But if I got over there, worked for a few years, and really started to get the feeling I was never going to be in the big show with the rest of the elite pharmaceutical chemists, being closer to home and in a smaller chemists organization might look awfully tempting.