SLAP SHOT

A boost the Avalanche needed is here, and it’s not a big trade

Mar 5, 2024, 12:45 PM | Updated: Mar 6, 2024, 11:43 am

The Colorado Avalanche have three days to make a big move before the NHL’s trade deadline.

And while that could still happen in the next 72 hours, the team got a boost they needed on Tuesday.

Forward Valeri Nichushkin is likely ready to return to game action on Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. Nichushkin entered the Player Assistance Program of the NHL and NHLPA on Jan. 15, and returned to practice on Feb. 26. The Avs have played four games without him as he works himself back into shape, going 3-1-0 during that stretch.

Nichushkin was spotted skating with the second-line at practice at Family Sports.

The numbers with and without Nichushkin in the lineup are staggering. Last year, the Avalanche were 39-8-6 with him, and 12-16-1 without him. This year, Colorado is 26-11-3 with him, and 12-9-2 without him. They’re basically a .500 team without Nichushkin, and a Stanley Cup contender with him.

We saw that last year in the playoffs, as he missed the final five games against the Seattle Kraken in a shocking Round 1 exit. The Avalanche’s Cup defense ended in seven games, and Nichushkin’s absence was a big part of it. Nichushkin vowed to address his issues “once and for all” when he left the team six weeks ago.

Before he sought treatment in January, Nichushkin was having a monster season. He’s posted 42 points by netting 22 goals and adding 20 assists. Even with the games missed thus far, he’s still fourth on the team in points behind Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar.

After going 3-5-2 to start the second half of the season after the All-Star Break, the Avs do seem to have things back on track. As mentioned, they’re 3-1-0 over their last four games, not surprisingly in the same stretch Nichushkin has been back at practice. That’s a big mental boost for the team, even if he’s yet to skate in a game.

But that looks to change tomorrow night against the Red Wings, and the Ball Arena crowd will be happy to see him back. The Avalanche are 38-20-5, good for 81 points on the season. That’s two points back of the Jets and Stars, who are both in action on Tuesday evening.

(Update 12:59 p.m.) –

After practice, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar pointed out Nichushkin still needs to get cleared by the NHL. Provided that formality goes through, he’s a strong candidate to play against Detroit.

(Update 3/6, 11:43 a.m.) –

After morning skate on Wednesday, Bednar said Nichushkin actually won’t play against the Red Wings. He still hasn’t been cleared by the NHL, and Bednar has “no idea” what that process looks like. Nichushkin’s next chance to play will be Friday against the Wild.

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A boost the Avalanche needed is here, and it’s not a big trade