Canadiens: Return to Form Reignites Tatar, Danault UFA Debate

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 31: Phillip Danault #24 and Tomas Tatar #90 of Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 31: Phillip Danault #24 and Tomas Tatar #90 of Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Tomas Tatar, or Philip Danault. That’s been the question this season for the Montreal Canadiens. Despite having gone through wildly different career paths in the NHL, both players now find themselves in the same situation, in regard to their future in the Canadiens organization.

A former first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, Danault was acquired by the Canadiens at the 2016 trade deadline, along with a second-round pick (Alexander Romanov) in exchange for depth forwards Dale Weise and Thomas Fleischmann. A long-term project for the Hawks that simply hadn’t worked out, Danault initially struggled in a bottom six role for the Canadiens, playing alongside a who’s who of journeymen and minor leaguers in a mostly, if not entirely lost 2015-16 season.

Come 2016-17, however, Danault would pick up his pace dramatically, and has since become the player the Hawks initially envisioned him to be coming out of the QMJHL. After producing a solid 40 points in his second season, Danault has recorded back-to-back seasons of 53 and 47 points respectively in 2018-19 and 2019-20, earning a reputation as one of the better defensive forwards in the NHL, and a perennial Selke trophy candidate.

Tatar was one of the first players I started following when I started writing about hockey, after reading about his immensely impressive performance for the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012-13. A second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, Tatar spent his first four seasons in Grand Rapids, culminating in a 16-goal performance in the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs, as the Griffins ended up as champions.

Since landing a full-time role with the Red Wings in 2013-14, Tatar has been one of the NHL’s most consistent players, having posted six consecutive 20 goal seasons since 2014-15. After being dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2018 Trade Deadline, an unimpressive six points over 20 games led to Vegas trading Tatar to the Canadiens in September of 2018, along with top prospect Nick Suzuki, in exchange for long-time Canadiens Captain and star forward Max Pacioretty.

Since then, Tatar has gone from being a solid, if not exactly game breaking player to, in my opinion, one of the more dangerous forwards on the Canadiens roster. In a 2019-20 season that saw Montreal stumble to a 31-31-9 record, Tatar was on pace for his best statistical season by a wide margin, posting 61 points over 68 games prior to the regular season’s suspension due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Heading into 2020-21, both Tatar and Danault were entering the final years of their contracts, with both set to become UFA’s in this upcoming off-season. With this, the question remained as to which player the Habs would ultimately go with. Well, 23 games into this current season, and it’s been an up and down start for both Tatar and Danault. While newly acquired players like Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli and Joel Edmundson have gotten off to excellent starts, much of the core from last season has struggled out of the gate.

While Jeff Petry has been off to his usual red-hot start, posting 22 points over 23 games as he appears to be getting better and better with age, Captain and franchise cornerstone Shea Weber is up to just 10 points this season with an even +/- rating. Franchise goaltender Carey Price has suffered through another uneven start, posting a 2.83 GAA and .898 Save Percentage, in spite of backup Jake Allen’s solid as usual 4-2-3 record with a 2.31 GAA. While many (including myself) were expecting Danault and Tatar to keep up their strong performances from season’s prior, both have been less than stellar, at least up until recently. While Danault has yet to crack the 15-goal mark in his career, he’s yet to score at all this season, posting 10 assists with +8 rating. Heading into Saturday night’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets, Tatar was up to just 12 points, with some beginning to question whether Montreal would end up re-signing either player.

Following the Canadiens impressive 7-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets Saturday, Philip Danault and Tomas Tatar’s future remains undecided.

That was until, Saturday night, where the Canadiens got back to their red-hot pace to start this season, ventilating the Jets 7-1, with Tatar posting three points, now back on the first line alongside Danault and Brendan Gallagher. With this, Tatar now sits at 15 points over 22 games, having posted six points over his last five games. While a nice return to form for one of Montreal’s key players, it brings up more questions regarding the future of these two players with the Canadiens, with one of the main things to consider with both Tatar and Danault being their potential vs. their reliability.

While similar in age at 30 and 28 years old respectively, Tatar’s role in the NHL is pretty much set in stone, being as reliable as they come offensively, fitting in nicely in the Canadiens speed-first system. While Danault is exiting the prime of his career, I still believe there’s so much more to his game than meets the eye, and, unlike Tatar, I think he has much more to offer for the Canadiens organization, should he be able to discover it. This past January, news was leaked that Danault had rejected a six-year, $30 million ($5 million AAV) extension in September, which brought up even more speculation as he’s continued to have a slow start to this season.

In today’s NHL, defensive forwards like Danault are a hot commodity, and one of the players that came to mind when considering Danault’s situation and rejection of the offered extension, is Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The former Ottawa Senators checker got off to a surprisingly hot start last season, posting 40 points over 60 games before being shipped to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline. That same day, Pageau signed a six-year deal worth (exactly like Danault’s) $30 million, for a player’s who plays a similar style and has produced similar numbers.

Whether Danault will be able to find his groove and pot his first goal of the season remains to be seen, and while Tatar’s recent trend of success has been encouraging, I find as though its still too early to call. While Danault’s lukewarm start is less than encouraging, its clear he’s confident in his abilities and I have no reason to doubt that he’ll be able to get his game going once more. Until then, look for Tatar to resume his consistent pace, as the Canadiens look to rebound from a rough recent stretch under interim head coach Dominique Ducharme.

dark. Next. Habs 3 stars in blowout victory

It was an impressive and satisfying return to form for the Canadiens on Saturday, giving us a glimpse back into what this team is capable of, both offensively and defensively, and the same can be said, for Tomas Tatar, and Philip Danault.