Tomas Tatar pleased with decision to join Avalanche’s ‘winning mentality’

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CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Tomas Tatar was eager to get going with the Avalanche as quickly as possible, which led to a bit of a stir at an offseason skate last Tuesday at Family Sports. Not knowing he’d agreed to a deal with Colorado, fans and reporters in attendance were surprised to see him on the ice. To the public’s knowledge, Tatar was still a free agent.

We were trying to get (a deal done) as fast as possible,” Tatar said Monday at the Avalanche Charity Golf Classic. “Like I told (general manager Chris MacFarland): ‘I want to be part of the team, I want to be with guys as long as possible before the camp starts. That creates such an advantage.’” 

The Avalanche put an end to the confusion shortly after Tatar started skating, announcing they had signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn projects the winger to be worth $4.4 million this coming season, so for a team up against the salary cap, the deal was a good one. Tatar had 48 points with the Devils in 2022-23 and has hit the 20-goal threshold seven times in his career.

Offseason negotiations with teams probably did not go the way the 32-year-old Tatar initially hoped, considering he switched agents during the summer and waited until September to sign. The Avalanche waited out the market and eventually pounced. MacFarland took a similar approach last offseason with Evan Rodrigues, who signed a one-year deal with Colorado after getting squeezed by the free-agent market. Rodrigues proceeded to put up good numbers with the Avalanche and earned a four-year, $3 million average annual value deal with Florida this summer.

With another good year, Tatar could put himself in a position for a notable pay bump in 2024. As Rodrigues showed, playing for a championship contender in Colorado can make that happen. Tatar feels a “winning mentality” there.

“I tried to look for a team that has very big potential, which I think this team has,” he said. “After talks got more serious I was more and more excited.”

Tatar, who spent the offseason in his native Slovakia, said the Avalanche emerged as potential later in the summer. Miroslav Zálešák, Colorado’s head of European scouting, was the first person from the team with whom he spoke, and the winger then chatted with MacFarland and coach Jared Bednar. He also talked to Colorado players before signing, including captain Gabriel Landeskog. Getting a sense of familiarity brought Tatar comfort.

“The conversations were good,” he said. “That’s why I leaned toward this decision.”

Tatar already knows several players on the team. He played with Artturi Lehkonen and Jonathan Drouin in Montreal, then was with Miles Wood in New Jersey.

The Devils and Avalanche both play with pace, which should help Tatar’s transition. He’s also coming from a team that had a taste of the playoffs, as the Devils reached the second round this past season.

“I think for a young group like that it was a great experience, and by the end of the season they took a lot of positives,” Tatar said of his final year in New Jersey. “I was very happy I could be a part of it.” 

Tatar’s postseason performance has come under scrutiny in past stops. He has only 13 points in 52 playoff games, a far lower scoring rate (.25 points per game) than he has in the regular season (.58). Still, considering the affordable cost of the contract, signing Tatar was worthwhile for Colorado.

Tatar is far from the only fresh face on Colorado. Newcomers Drouin, Wood, Ross Colton, Ryan Johansen and Fredrik Olofsson were all at the golf tournament, and the team also signed a trio of players to professional tryouts: Joel Kiviranta, Saku Maenalanen and Peter Holland. It’s possible that half the forwards in the opening night Avalanche lineup could be playing their first game with the club.

“It makes it easier to come to the rink knowing there are other guys in the same situation,” said Colton, who carpooled with Johansen and Wood to the golf tournament. 

Colton, acquired from Tampa Bay in June, played against Tatar plenty in the Eastern Conference, and he was happy with the late offseason signing. 

“He’s obviously a guy who has had a lot of success in this league,” Colton said from outside the golf course clubhouse. “He had a great year last year in Jersey. He seems like a good guy in the locker room who brings a bit of life, but at the same time when it comes to game time he’s ready to go.”  

Asked about his golf game ahead of teeing off Monday, Tatar laughed and said it’s “not the best.” Fortunately for the Avalanche, they’re paying him to play hockey, and he’s capable of holding his own on the ice.

(Photo: Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

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