No clarity, little subtlety on Avs' Valeri Nichushkin situation: 'What happens here moving forward, that's up to him'

Corey Masisak, The Denver Post on

Published in Hockey

DENVER — Chris MacFarland and Gabe Landeskog spent nearly an hour taking questions from assembled media Thursday, and there were nearly as many queries about Valeri Nichushkin as there were about the Avalanche captain.

Two integral members of the organization made one thing very clear: The proverbial ball is firmly in Nichushkin’s court.

There are many questions still to be answered, but a general theme was clear. Nichushkin, who is currently serving a suspension of at least six months after being forced back into the NHL-NHLPA Player Assistance Program for the third time in 13 months, has a lot of work to do beyond just the requirements for reinstatement from the league.

“Val is a teammate of ours. He’s a friend of ours. He’s somebody that we’ve raised the (Stanley) Cup with,” Landeskog said. “You care for him, and you want him to get help, and you want him to get right. Now, what happens here moving forward, that’s up to him, how he’s going to handle it.”

Nichushkin was placed into Stage 3 of the assistance program and suspended the day of Game 4 of Colorado’s second-round series against the Dallas Stars. Landeskog, like a couple of other teammates, admitted the team was shaken by the news.

It’s the second consecutive postseason where Nichushkin’s off-ice problems made him unavailable in the middle of a playoff series. The Avs were clearly a Stanley Cup contender with him in the lineup in 2023-24, and Nichushkin had the best statistical season of his career despite missing nearly two months while in Stage 2.

The Avs, despite a valiant effort from a championship-winning core, were not a Cup contender after the suspension. Dallas blew out Colorado in Game 4 and finished off the Avs in double overtime in Game 6.

First, there is the question of whether Nichushkin will play for the Avs again. He has six years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of $6.125 million per season. He’s owed $8 million in salary for 2024-25, though a chunk of that is already going to be lost during the suspension.

MacFarland said he believes the six-month clock started the day he was suspended, so that would mean the earliest he can return is mid-November.

“What I can say to you is, we’ve got to look at all options, and at this time, priority one is for Val to get the help he needs,” MacFarland said. “Assuming he does, and after the six months, we’ll have to read and react on that. But it is very plausible that he will be back with the Avalanche.”


MacFarland brought up contract termination unprompted and said it is currently not an option. Nichushkin also has a no-movement clause in his contract until June 2025, when it becomes just a 12-team no-trade clause.

“The best thing I can say is we’re pulling for Val to do what he needs to do, to take care of himself,” MacFarland said. “This guy is a heck of a hockey player, but it’s a privilege to play in this league. And when you sign that contract, there’s things that have to be adhered to and hopefully Val takes the next six months to get himself right.”

Nichushkin led the Avs with nine goals this postseason, despite missing the final three games of the Dallas series. He had 28 goals and 53 points in 54 regular season games. He was a monster during the 2022 Stanley Cup title run.

Earlier this season, Devon Toews called him a “one of one” player. He might be the best two-way power forward in the sport when he’s right. For the Avs, his availability and reliability have become an issue.

This is a team that prides itself on its standards and levels of accountability in the locker room. Before this season began, Nathan MacKinnon said the club welcomed Nichushkin back “with open arms” after the incident in Seattle during the 2023 playoffs.

Now, he’s going to be asking for a third or fourth chance, depending on how everyone parses out his absences. Landeskog was asked if the Avs players would be waiting with open arms again.

“We will see how Val handles this situation and how the next six months go,” he replied.


©2024 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



blog comments powered by Disqus