AVALANCHE

Avs should continue to try to trade Valeri Nichushkin this summer

Jul 2, 2024, 4:00 AM

The Colorado Avalanche have forward Valeri Nichushkin under contract for the next six years.

Let’s hope that isn’t the case in the next six weeks.

As free agency opened in the NHL on Monday, there was some good news and then a bunch of small moves from Colorado. The team re-signed Jonathan Drouin at just $2.5 million, a great job negotiating by Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland. That was a win for the club, but then a bunch of underwhelming signings happened.

With apologies to Joel Kiviranta, Calvin de Haan, Jacob MacDonald, T.J. Tynan, Parker Kelly and Calle Rosen, no one is planning a parade because the Avs inked them to a series of contracts. Some of those guys probably won’t even be on the roster on opening night, instead reporting to duty with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles.

And why didn’t the Avalanche have more cap space to work with? Well it’s in large part due to the fact that Nichushkin is still on the team, scheduled to count $6.125 million against the salary cap next season.

As you know by now Nichushkin is in the middle of a six-month suspension, after letting the Avs down in the playoffs for a second year in a row. Nichushkin is in Stage 3 of the Player Assistance Program of the NHLPA and NHL, after getting popped right before the Avalanche and Stars were getting ready to play Game 4 of their Round 2 playoff series.

This tweet from Frank Seravalli about Colorado’s cap situation on Monday was alarming to say the least.

As some top NHL insiders have suggested, the Avalanche could possibly trade Nichushkin, if they’re willing to include a first-round draft pick to sweeten the pot.

That’s something MacFarland should try to do immediately. In fact, let’s hope that’s how he’s been spending a good chunk of his time the past several weeks. Anything to get Nichushkin’s massive eight-year, $49 million deal off the books that’s only a couple of years old.

Yes, there’s no question when Nichushkin is right he’s one of the most lethal goal-scorers in the NHL. The problem is he hasn’t been right at the most crucial time of the year the last two seasons, and you could easily make a case he cost the Avalanche another Stanley Cup.

If the Avalanche get past Dallas with Nichushkin (he missed the final three games of the series), there’s a strong case they could’ve beaten the Oilers in the Western Conference Final. Colorado had the firepower to keep up with Edmonton, just like they did when they swept them in 2022.

It’s no sure thing the Avalanche would’ve defeated the Panthers in the Final, but they would’ve had a shot. Yet, because Nichushkin did what he did, we never got a chance to find out.

On a Zoom press conference on Monday night, MacFarland said Nichushkin is doing rehab in Russia and the Avalanche don’t have much contact with him. Hopefully that’s because they’re having more contact with other teams trying to trade for him, to anyone that will bite.

Free agency would’ve been been a lot more exciting on Monday if MacFarland had an extra $6 million to play with. Still, the Avalanche can use that potential freed up money in other trades, giving Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar another weapon to go chase a title with.

Counting on Nichushkin to come back in November and just be magically okay is gusty strategy. Even if he does make it through the season, the Avs will be holding their breath before every playoff game, hoping not to get another call from the league something has gone wrong.

No, MacFarland should let another GM fret about that. And while we all wish Valeri Nichushkin the person the best, the hockey player has burned us one too many times.

Trading him should remain the top priority.

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