Chris MacFarland keeps winning the long game in NHL free agency.
How does the Colorado Avalanche general manager do it?
In September 2022, he signed Evan Rodrigues from Pittsburgh on a one-year deal. Last month, MacFarland did it again, landing Tomas Tatar on a one-year contract from New Jersey. Both middle-six forward steals illustrate a defining characteristic of the Avalanche front office on the cusp of a new season.
Patience is a virtue.
“The reality of it is that both of those guys, early on in free agency, we probably couldn’t have afforded to sign them,” coach Jared Bednar said. “Then we get fortunate. We stay on them, and we keep explaining our situation. Chris does a really good job of being very straightforward, up-front and honest with those guys. If they feel comfortable enough at the end of the (summer) to give us a try, then we’re happy to have them.”
Colorado’s pursuit of Tatar began at the start of free agency with the 32-year-old NHL forward considering all options. He just logged 20 goals and 28 assists for the upstart New Jersey Devils. His name was linked to multiple teams over the summer. He changed agents. Nothing materialized.
July came and went, with still no deal in hand, when the Avalanche accelerated their push.
“We were in pretty intense touch maybe the last three or four weeks. Since the start of August, probably every other day, just trying to schedule meetings,” Tatar told The Denver Gazette. “I talked to (Bednar) I talked to a few of the guys and people in the organization like (European scouts) Miro Zalesak and Peter Budaj. There had been some conversation, and more and more, we got to talk. I liked it better and better.”
MacFarland leaned on Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog in the process. They’ve spent more time together recently after Landeskog missing all of last season with a significant knee injury.
“We’ve always had a good relationship and we continue to have a good relationship,” Landeskog said of MacFarland. “I’m more available on game days than when I’m in the lineup. So, if he wants to call me, he can. He doesn’t (laughs).”
Landeskog downplays his impact. Tatar relishes in it.
“He just kind of described what the organization is (about). Talked about guys and the mentality,” Tatar said about his conversation with Landeskog. “I had a very good feeling when I met Gabe a few years ago. I thought he was a great leader and a great captain.”
Tatar is still getting to know MacFarland. What stood out about their early conversations is that he “just seemed very honest.” That evaluation rings true for returning Avalanche players like Andrew Cogliano, who signed a one-year deal this summer to stay in Colorado. Cogliano has played for many different general managers over his 16-year NHL career.
What makes MacFarland — everyone calls him C-Mac — stand out among his GM peers?
“You can tell he loves this job, and he puts everything he has into it,” Cogliano said. “He’s a very easy guy to talk to and I think that’s a really strong quality. He interacts with players. He gets guys opinions but also knows when to leave guys alone. I think he has a very good pulse of the room, the guys and team. To be honest, he feels like a player at times, which is a great feeling.
“Obviously, he’s the GM, and has to make tough calls and tough decisions at times. But you can tell that you’re in it with him.”
Tatar — signed to a one-year, $1.5 million Avalanche contract — aims for a career revitalization like Rodrigues. He joined Colorado late in free agency, posted solid numbers (39 points), and signed to the Florida Panthers on a multiyear deal worth $3 million annually. Tatar is ready for the challenge.
MacFarland opened the door.
“Maybe, me waiting that long, everything is happening for a reason,” Tatar said. “I’m very happy that I’m here in Colorado.”