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Tatar focused on safety, not contract status with Canadiens during pause

Forward can become free agent after next season, says health concerns come first

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Tomas Tatar said a new contract is not on his mind with the NHL season paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

The Montreal Canadiens forward can become an unrestricted free agent after next season and was having his best NHL season before the pause March 12, leading the Canadiens with 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists). But Tatar said Tuesday his contract situation and personal goals are not priorities now.

"I think the health and safety of our fans, (hockey) workers and the players is in first place," he said. "Unless this all gets cleaned up and we'll have a green light for games to be played, we just have to respect it."

Tatar and defenseman Jeff Petry were thought to be valuable assets leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24, but Montreal kept them. Petry also can become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Tatar has three more points than last season in 12 fewer games (68); he had 58 points (25 goals, 33 assists), his previous NHL career high, in 80 games last season with the Canadiens. But the forward said he was more focused on trying to help the Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"The team's success is the priority, and we were always trying to [see] how we could get the Canadiens in a playoff spot," said the 29-year-old, who is in his ninth NHL season. "For the most part I was playing with [Philip Danault] and [Brendan Gallagher]. We clicked on the ice. For me, it's very easy to play with these guys. My production is a reflection of playing with them, for sure."

Montreal (31-31-9) is 10 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division and 10 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets for a wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. There is no timetable for when the season might resume.

Tatar initially stayed in Montreal when the season was paused but returned home to Slovakia to be close to family when flights began being canceled. He's working out while respecting health guidelines that are very similar to many of those in North America.

"I think all players are trying to stay in shape and be ready," Tatar said. "I don't really have a (personal deadline) date on either finishing the regular season or starting the playoffs. This is all in discussion, up in the air. We're trying to think of the way, if we'd be good to go, that we'd structure it. At the moment, this is not a priority. We're just trying to be safe and we'll go from there."

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