AVALANCHE

The Avalanche might have a tough decision to make on Valeri Nichushkin

May 2, 2023, 6:00 AM

Missing five playoff games for a non-injury related reason is a big deal.

That’s what Avalanche star forward Valeri Nichushkin managed to do the last 10 days, leaving the team hotel in Seattle before Game 3. The events of what happened are still unclear, but a police report involving an intoxicated Russian woman in Nichushkin’s room did raise more questions than answers.

So, whatever happened, it wasn’t good. The Avalanche desperately could’ve used Nichushkin’s help in a series in which they lacked firepower.

It felt like Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen played all worldly, while no one else on Colorado lived up to their potential. That unfortunately includes last year’s Conn Smythe winner Cale Makar, who missed a game due to a suspension and wasn’t his normal special self on offense.

So now, the series is over. And while you can blame the suspension of Makar, the biggest reason was clearly Nichushkin’s absence. The Avs still almost pulled it off in Game 7, so it seems fair to say if one of their best players had been available, they’re currently preparing for the Dallas Stars in Round 2.

But that’s not the case. Whatever happened in that hotel was significant enough for the Avalanche to get him out of there. Head coach Jared Bednar declined to say if that was the team’s decision or not, but it’s fairly easy to connect the dots.

And rather than speculate about what he did, I’ll just say this: The nature of the offense matters. If it’s severe, the Avs may not be able to have Nichushkin back on the team. It could simply be too awkward for the rest of the locker room, if players like MacKinnon and Rantanen feel Nichushkin made bad personal decisions that let everyone down.

I’m not a contract expert, but there has to be some sort of language in the deal the Avs could potentially use to get out of it. Nichushkin signed an eight-year, $49 million contract last summer, one that is worth every penny when he’s on the ice. Unfortunately in this case, he wasn’t at the most critical of times.

Let’s hope the situation is one Nichushkin and the Avalanche can move on from. In a perfect world, he’s back next year and we never have to talk about it again. Still, it’s hard to not keep coming back to he missed five playoff games. Whatever happened was indeed a big (and likely bad) situation.

President Joe Sakic and general manager Chris MacFarland have stayed silent on this one, but you know they’re working behind the scenes to figure out what’s next. Heck, even owner Josh Kroenke probably has his antenna raised, as that’s a lot of money coming from his organization to the player.

Ultimately, it depends on what happened and how management, Bednar and the superstar players feel like they can move forward. If they can welcome him back, great, let’s go try to win another Stanley Cup next year. If not, trade phone calls should be made and / or contractual language explored.

The Avs need to add more scoring threats next year, and Nichushkin returning would certainly be one of them. If not, it’s up to MacFarland to prove he’s a good GM and not just helped along by all the Sakic magic of the last decade.

The third and fourth lines need to be totally re-done. The second like will get tweaked as well, with our fingers crossed captain Gabriel Landeskog’s knee heals up and he can finally return.

What we saw against the Kraken in Round 1 wasn’t good enough. The defending champions going out that early isn’t what anyone expected. Now, it’s time for some tough decisions, and the first one has to be the future of Nichushkin.

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