The Pittsburgh Penguins are “keenly interested” in free agent winger Tomas Tatar, reports Rob Rossi of The Athletic. Tatar himself alluded to Pittsburgh’s interest in a recent interview with Slovak website Sport.sk, saying, “it [would be nice to play for Pittsburgh], but I don’t want to develop it further.”
Tatar, who was recently back home to accept this year’s Slovak Hockey Player of the Year award, spent the last two seasons with the New Jersey Devils after signing a two-year, $9MM deal with them in 2021. He did well in a middle-six role there after a rather unceremonious end to his time as a Montreal Canadien, as he was healthy scratched for the majority of their run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. The 32-year-old winger recorded 35 goals, 43 assists and 78 points across 158 games in New Jersey, rebounding nicely in his second year after a rather middling 2021-22 campaign. An often underrated standout defensive presence, Tatar received a handful of Selke Trophy votes in 2022-23 for the first time in his career after he posted a career-high +41 rating and a very strong 57.3% Corsi for at even strength.
The 5-foot-10, 173-pound winger hasn’t had documented interest this offseason, although some wondered if he could be a good depth fit for the Edmonton Oilers. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had interest, however. “It’s been more teams since the beginning. There were many interested parties, which reassured me. The problem was more in the agreement. Whether it was about the length of the contract or the amount, we always fought with someone,” Tatar said. He later mentioned he’s at the stage in his career where he feels he should be picky about his destination in an effort to win the Stanley Cup. He’s been a member of two teams that reached the Stanley Cup Final – the 2021 Canadiens and the 2018 Vegas Golden Knights – but disappointed in both playoff runs.
Another thing Tatar mentioned was his desire for a two-year deal, citing the runway it gave him in New Jersey to improve during his second campaign there. However, he recognized the term demand was likely holding up negotiations and appears to be softening on the two-year requirement in an effort to land with a contender. Rossi also mentioned that if Tatar doesn’t get a guaranteed deal elsewhere soon, he could sign a PTO with the Penguins with the expectation of a one-year deal coming at the end, similar to what Mike Hoffman did with the St. Louis Blues in 2020.
Of course, this would come against what general manager Kyle Dubas said earlier this week after acquiring star defenseman Erik Karlsson. Dubas told reporters he believed the Penguins’ roster was relatively solidified coming into next season, but it’s hard to imagine Tatar not demanding a relatively fruitful roster spot if he does sign – especially to start the season with first-line winger Jake Guentzel briefly on the shelf after undergoing ankle surgery at the beginning of the month.
When everyone is healthy, Tatar would likely slot into a third-line role after playing second-line responsibilities with Nico Hischier for the Devils during much of last season. He likely wouldn’t fracture a top-four wing group that’s made up of Guentzel, Rickard Rakell, Bryan Rust, and Reilly Smith, although he would assumedly be the first to elevate either alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin if injuries sideline any of those four longer-term.
Also of note, the Penguins are projected to be up directly against the salary cap’s $83.5MM Upper Limit to start the year, per CapFriendly. Signing Tatar would likely mean exposing a depth forward such as Alexander Nylander, Vinnie Hinostroza or the recently-acquired Rem Pitlick to waivers.