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Nichushkin, Landeskog Situations Loom Large Over Offseason For Avalanche

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The last time the Colorado Avalanche played a game with both Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin in the lineup together was Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final back in 2022.

I can’t imagine that ever happens again.

Placed in Stage 3 of the Player Assistance Program and suspended a minimum of six months last week, Valeri Nichushkin won’t play another game in the NHL until at least November. If/when he does get clearance to return to the league, I can’t imagine he’ll be allowed back in that Avalanche locker room. While most of the players in the locker room said the right thing (or didn’t say much at all), you could sense the frustration in their voices.

They were let down by Nichushkin for the second season in a row during the most important time of the year. I really hope Nichushkin can get the help he needs on a personal level, but in business, you have to make tough decisions. The Avalanche simply have to find a way to move on without the big winger.

How they move on is another question entirely. The entire situation is a little murky at the moment, but Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic reported last week that what has transpired does not constitute as grounds for contract termination. Nichushkin’s salary won’t count against the cap while he’s suspended, but the second he’s reinstated, the Avalanche have to make room.

It’s not exactly easy to dump $6,125,000 in contracts on a moments notice, so until we get some clarity, it almost has to be treated like dead cap space.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only murky situation looming over the offseason for the Avalanche.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog started skating again back in January after his cartilage transplant surgery last May. Sometimes you have to trust your eyes, and my eyes were telling me he didn’t look like a guy that close to returning in recent weeks. When I asked Jared Bednar how close Landeskog got to playing, he confirmed that was the case.

“I don’t think we got close to getting him back,” Bednar said. “I think he got to the point where it was like he wasn’t going to be able to play this year so then they can be cautious and he has this summer to get ready.”

Last summer at this time, the Avalanche had clarity on what was going to happen with Landeskog the next season. He was already ruled out, and they could plan to spend that $7 million in cap space on other players. This year, they don’t have that clarity (yet), even though they really want their Captain back.

“I’m optimistic and hopeful (he can be back next season),” Bednar said. “And I’m really hoping, not just for us, but for Gabe that he’s able to play again. He wants to play. It’s been a long road for him. I’d like nothing more than to see and be able to come back and play. And I think that that can happen. If anyone can do it, Gabe can do it.”

I would love nothing more than to see Landeskog play again, and I think it will happen. Expectations have to be altered, though. If he does make it back, you can’t expect him to be the same player he was prior to the surgeries. This is a rare surgery, and no NHL player has ever come back to play after having it. If he makes it back and somehow goes back to being a 30 goal scorer, then maybe he truly is a Golden God. I’m not banking on that, though.

GM Chris MacFarland is expected to speak in the near future, and there’s no doubt that these two players will be the hottest topic of conversation. The Avalanche can’t really plan their offseason until they get some clarity with what is going on.

For a team looking to contend, that’s not a great spot to be in.

“You hate having that uncertainty because it makes it harder to plan,” Bednar said after the team lost to the Dallas Stars. “For management, for Chris and Joe like, how do you plan? They’ll get clear on those guys’ situations as best they can and then form a plan and go from there. I don’t know. I mean, you’re hoping for answers and clarity so then you can build your team around that. But it’s obviously a couple of guys that have a significant cap hit. I don’t know where all that goes this summer and how quickly they can get it sorted out for July 1 or after that. That’s a challenge. It’s a big challenge.”

Big challenge indeed, and Colorado’s status as a contender next season might depend on it.

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