It took some time, but the Devils finally got their man.
Eight days after the opening of the NHL's annual free agency period, the club signed winger Tomas Tatar to a two-year, $9-million contract with a $4.5 million average annual value.
It was another piece in what has been a masterful offseason for Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald. Prior to the summer, he had a list of team needs he wanted to address: a 1b goaltender, adding size and depth to the defense and adding a top-6 finishing forward.
Armed with his list, Fitzgerald added Jonathan Bernier (1b goaltender), Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves (defensive size and depth) and, now, Tatar (top-6 finishing forward).
Video: Tomas Tatar with Amanda Stein | 1-on-1
Fitzgerald can take a marker now and cross off each item on the list. Appearing on Monday's episode of Speak of the Devils podcast, Fitzgerald noted: "I said I want to get a top-6 winger and I haven't yet. I put pressure on myself, but I'm not going to chase something, and do it because I said it. It's got to be the right piece for the right price, the right term."
Fitzgerald's patience paid off three days later as Tatar, who was fielding calls from quite a few teams, is the right piece at the right price for the right term. And that's something upon which both sides can agree.
"It's been pretty hectic; I'm not going to lie to you," Tatar admitted to media Friday afternoon about the free agency period. "There was a lot of moving parts. You've been in touch with the teams. You're discussing the possibilities that you have. After I talked to Tom and (head coach) Lindy (Ruff), I felt very good about it. It was just a matter of getting things done. I was very excited I could find a home in New Jersey."
It was those talks that sold Tatar on making his new home in the Garden State. Fitzgerald and the Devils run a family-oriented organization model. And Tatar could feel that his conversations. Of all the GMs that Tatar spoke with, he felt most comfortable with Fitzgerald.
"To me it was most personal with Tom," Tatar said. "I feel like he really opened up to me. He explained to me the reason they were looking at me, why they think I'm the right fit. To me, it felt like we talked more as friends and people getting to know each other more and more with every conversation. He made it a lot easier to make the decision.
"I really feel like we made the right decision."
Video: Tomas Tatar Media Availability | RAW
The 30-year-old veteran could have an immediate impact on the Devils, a club that generated a lot of scoring chances during the 2020-21 season, but struggled finishing plays. Tatar comes with the hands of a finisher, having scored 19 or more goals in seven straight seasons prior to the 2020-21 campaign, which includes a career-high 29 in 2014-15.
But for all his offensive acumen, Tatar is an incredibly solid defensive player, which is borne out in his analytical 5-on-5 play. But all you really need to know is that during last season's Stanley Cup Final playoff run with Montreal, Tatar was tasked in a shutdown role for the Canadiens and got the best of names like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Mark Stone.
Perhaps Tatar's best attribute though isn't in the offensive or defensive zone, but his attitude when it comes to accepting any role asked of him.
"If our job is to play against the (other team's) best offensive players then we will get the job done," he said. "I don't care if we are (scoring goals) or not. It's a team sport and our goal is to win a game.
"I don't mind playing a defensive hockey game. If you want to be a good player in this league you can't be just thinking offensively. I like doing offensive fancy stuff, and I like scoring goals and making plays. But there's a time and place to do that, and a time and place to be good defensively. Hopefully, I'll be great on both sides on the ice. That's the challenge for me."
Another challenge will be as a mentor to a team filled with fresh, neophyte faces. At 30 years old, Tatar is the oldest forward on the roster by four years. And his eight-plus years in the NHL, not to mention being a part of two Stanley Cup finalists, will be valuable assets to a young, up-and-coming but inexperienced club.
"It was scary to look at it this way," he said of his age on the roster. "But the amount of talent that these young players have is very exciting to me. I am super excited to join them on the ice and see the energy that they have. They've very talented and have a very bright future.
"The offseason I noticed (the Devils) did some very good signings, which helped me to make a decision. I want to be on a team where we are going to be competitive and we have one set goal. I'm very happy I could contribute and help the team."