Avalanche’s Valeri Nichushkin breaks silence on mysterious postseason absence

The Colorado Avalanche sorely missed Valeri Nichushkin for the final five games of their Round 1 series against the Seattle Kraken in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The talented winger was away from the team after an incident at a Seattle hotel that resulted in the 28-year-old going back to his home country of Russia.

Although the full details still haven’t been made available, Nichushkin was back with the team as training camp opened on Thursday — and he spoke vaguely about the encounter.

“I know you guys want to find something there but it’s nothing really interesting,” Nichushkin told reporters. “I think we should close it. It’s a new season right now. We have to focus on that.”

Nichushkin continued to deflect questions from his mysterious playoff absence, saying he was away from the team for “family reasons.”

Officers were called to the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle just hours before Game 3 between the Kraken and Avalanche, and took an intoxicated 28-year-old woman to the hospital.

Nichushkin didn’t play another game in the series, a joint decision between he and the team, but made it clear that he probably would have been available had the Avs won Game 7.

“We make the next round I probably play,” Nichushkin said. “I want to say thank you everybody for supporting me.”

It looks like no more details will be given, and it’s clear that the Russian winger is looking to put the entire situation behind him ahead of the 2023-24 season.

The team sorely missed the Chelyabinsk native; only two Colorado players scored more goals than his nine during the team’s scintillating Stanley Cup run in 2022.

The lack of offensive depth was glaring against the Kraken once Nichushkin became unavailable, and had he been able to play, the series may have gone a different way.

“We just know he’s going to be here for us and he’s such an amazing player,” Nathan MacKinnon said on Wednesday night ahead of training camp. “We all love him and yeah, everything’s good.”

Although it still seems like there could be details that are being held back from the public, the fact that Valeri Nichushkin is back on the ice in Denver is a huge victory for both his Avalanche teammates and fans of the franchise.

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Avalanche 2023-24 preview: Training camp storylines, cut candidates, roster projections

The Colorado Avalanche entered the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the full expectation of returning to the Finals for the second straight year. But after a shocking seven-game exit at the hands of the Seattle Kraken in Round 1, it’s been a longer offseason than anyone in Denver anticipated. Still, the possibility of a three-peat in Colorado is still alive after the Denver Nuggets won the 2023 NBA Finals, and sports fans in the city will be over the moon if either team can bring a title to the Mile High City in 2024.

For the Avalanche to do that, a lot of things will need to go right. The lack of offensive depth was glaring during the postseason; without the likes of Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin up front, the team looked far from the squad that was nearly unbeatable in the incredible 2022 playoff run.

But despite a disappointing loss, the Avalanche remain one of the premier teams in the National Hockey League. They boast star power at every position, and have three of the best players in the sport in Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen. But a lot has changed this offseason, and is this team still good enough to bring two titles in three seasons to Colorado?

New-look offense, NHL’s best D-core

The short answer is potentially. Despite a ton of turnover from complementary players, the team is much deeper up front than last season. Gone are the likes of JT Compher, Alex Newhook and Evan Rodrigues. In are Ryan Johansen, Tomas Tatar, Miles Wood and Jonathan Drouin, four players who have something to prove with their new team.

Drouin figures to slot in on the top line immediately, playing with a familiar face in MacKinnon; the two were teammates and linemates on the 2013 Halifax Mooseheads squad that won the Memorial Cup as the best junior team in hockey. Along with Rantanen, that projects to be one of the best top lines in the league if Drouin can find the offensive touch he had earlier in his career.

Ryan Johansen has big shoes to fill as he slots in at captain Gabriel Landeskog’s 2C, but he has great linemates in Nichushkin and Arturri Lehkonen, the latter who was a revelation for the Avs in their 2022 Stanley Cup run. The third line of Wood-Colton-Tatar has incredible potential, and although it could struggle defensively, Tatar was a tidy piece of business; the 32-year-old is fresh off a 20-goal, 48-point campaign with the New Jersey Devils.

And the defense is as good as it’s ever been. The only team that can realistically go pound-for-pound when this D-core is healthy is the Carolina Hurricanes. The top pairing of Makar and Devon Toews is the best in the game, and they boast three top-four D-man on top of that in Bowen Byram, Josh Manson and Samuel Girard. Health will always be a concern for this group, but if they can stay on track, it’s the most skilled group of six defensemen in the world.

Gabriel Landeskog an option?

Landeskog was sorely missed all of last season and into the playoffs. Without him, the Avalanche are just not the same team. But after originally saying that the captain would miss the entire 2023-24 season, GM Chris MacFarland provided a brief glimmer of hope, saying the 30-year-old could be ready for the 2024 postseason.

If that is the case, and Johansen could move down to 3C near playoff time, it opens up even more options for a formidable forward group. It will be intriguing to see if Landeskog ends up becoming an option for the team down the stretch, and if so, how effective he is after almost two full seasons away from NHL competition.

The secret weapon

Avalanche fans keeping a close eye on the team’s prospect pool will know that there’s another top-six winger waiting in the wings. That would be 23-year-old Nikolai Kovalenko, one of the best players in the world not playing in the NHL. Kovalenko is fresh off an impressive 54 point campaign in just 56 games for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s premier league. An absolute steal for the Avs at No. 171 in the 2018 NHL Draft, Kovalenko is likely to come over to North America once his season is done. There’s no guarantee that he will be able to make an impact in America (just look at Vadim Shipachyov), but he is an intriguing player for Colorado fans to keep tabs on throughout the season.

At the end of the day, the Avalanche are a wagon. They’ve built a perennial Stanley Cup contender around a superstar core, and these same players have already got the job done once. Landeskog’s health and the health of the team in general is a question mark, but in a seven-game series, Colorado can beat anyone. Whether or not they will be able to outlast a team like the Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights or Dallas Stars is a question that can only be answered in time, but the Avs have as good a chance as any Western Conference team to be playing for Lord Stanley next June.

Final projected roster

Forwards: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Jonathan Drouin, Artturi Lehkonen, Ryan Johansen, Valeri Nichushkin, Miles Wood, Tomas Tatar, Ross Colton, Ben Meyers, Logan O’Connor, Andrew Cogliano (Gabriel Landeskog on LTIR)

Defensemen: Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Josh Manson, Samuel Girard, Bowen Byram, Jack Johnson

Goalies: Alexandar Georgiev, Pavel Francouz

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Avalanche’s Devon Toews will light up Cale Makar’s eyes with clear stance amid extension talks

It seems the Colorado Avalanche’s stellar defensive duo of Devon Toews and Cale Makar will  remain together for the foreseeable future.

Toews hopes he will agree to a contract extension with the Avalanche before the 2023-24 NHL season kicks off next month.

“My intent is to stay here the rest of my career,” Devon Toews told The Denver Post’s Bennett Durando on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old Toews is entering his sixth NHL season and fourth with the Avalanche. Behind the stellar pairing of Devon Toews and Cale Makar on defense, Colorado won its third Stanley Cup in the 2021-22 NHL season.

Devon Toews’ current four-year deal with the Avalanche pays him an average of $4.1 million per season. Colorado can go past their $83.5 million salary cup by as much as $7 million. That latter amount is the average annual value of Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. Regrettably, he will sit out the entire 2023-24 NHL season.

Re-signing Devon Toews is one of Avalanche GM Chris McFarland’s top priorities. Toews had seven goals and 43 assists last season. Consequently, he produced his second straight 50-point campaign. Toews has also never finished lower than 15th in the Norris Trophy voting for the past three seasons.

Once Toews agrees to a contract extension, he will fortify Colorado’s defense along with Makar, Sam Girard, and Josh Manson. The Avalanche also made a big splash when they signed 15-year veteran Tomas Tatar in the offseason.

Colorado took a step backward after winning the Stanley Cup two seasons ago. With that in mind, Devon Toews and the Avalanche seek payback and a deeper Stanley Cup Playoff run in 2023-24.


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Avalanche reportedly looking for insurance between the pipes

Colorado Avalanche backup goalie Pavel Francouz is still recovering from abductor surgery and might not be an option to start the season, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursday.

“[Avs] appear to be examining options on the goalie market,” he wrote. “Sounds like Pavel Francouz has not completely recovered from his offseason abductor surgery and there is concern he will miss some time. Francouz made just 16 starts for the Avalanche last season.”

The 33-year-old posted an 8-7-1 record in Denver last season, with a very respectable .915 save percentage. Francouz is one of four goalies under contract with the team, along with starter Alexandar Georgiev and prospects Justus Annunen, Trent Miner and Arvid Holm.

The NHL Free Agency goaltender pool has gotten extremely thin after Martin Jones signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The only options on the wire are veterans Jaroslav Halak, Michael Hutchinson and Brian Elliott.

Instead, the Avs could let the young guys play. That would likely mean Annunen would become the backup; the 23-year-old has played four games over two seasons with the team.

With Gabriel Landeskog’s $7 million cap hit on long-term injured reserve as the captain continues rehabbing from knee surgery, the team has around $525,000 in cap space to work with, per CapFriendly.

If Pavel Francouz ends up being placed on LTIR himself, it would free up an extra $2 million in space.

It will be interesting to see if the Czech professional will be an option for the team early this season, or if other arrangements must be made as the Avs look to bounce back from a disappointing Round 1 exit in 2023-24.

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Avalanche add offensive depth with former Red Wings, Canadiens standout

Tomas Tatar has found a new home in free agency. The Colorado Avalanche are adding the veteran on a one-year, $1.5 million contract for the 2023-24 season, the team announced on Tuesday.

At first glance, it looks like a great signing for both player and club; Tatar should make the top-nine, and third line in particular, much more formidable.

The 32-year-old played last season with the New Jersey Devils, scoring a very respectable 20 goals and 48 points in 82 contests. He added a goal in 12 postseason games as the Devils were eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 2.

Although it’s a bit of a pay cut after the Slovak was making $4.5 million for each of the last two years with the Devils, the veteran has an opportunity to have a big year in Denver and earn a raise next summer.

A former No. 60 overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 NHL Draft, Tatar has amassed 211 goals and 455 points in 783 career regular-season games for the Wings, Vegas Golden Knights, Montreal Canadiens and Devils.

The 5-foot-10 winger has been very active in international play; he represented Slovakia at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia, helping his country to an 11th place finish. He has also participated in five IIHF World Championships, and suited up for Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Tomas Tatar was one of the best available free agents left on the market with just weeks until training camp. It is another name off the board, and looks to be a shrewd piece of business for both the veteran and the Colorado Avalanche.

It will be interesting to see if the former 29-goal scorer can earn a spot in the team’s strong top-six come October.




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Gabriel Landeskog gets colossal injury update from Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland

The Colorado Avalanche navigated through a full season without their captain Gabriel Landeskog last year. After helping the Avalanche to its third Stanley Cup in June 2022, Landeskog has not seen the ice and instead underwent a pair of surgeries to fix a nagging knee injury.

Landeskog is expected to miss the entire 2023-24 regular season, but Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland gave a promising update when asked if Colorado’s captain could return during the playoffs.

“We’re hoping,” MacFarland said, per Pierre LeBrun. “There’s still so much that needs to be gleaned in this, so it’s hard to put a timeline on it. He’s about four months (into his recovery), and he’s doing incredibly well.”

Landeskog has been Colorado’s captain since 2012, making him the third longest-tenured captain in the NHL behind Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. The fact that the Avalanche are leaving Landeskog as their captain through an expected two full seasons off the ice shows how much they respect the 30-year-old Swede.

Landeskog has 571 points in 738 career games, recording two 30-plus goal seasons. He also has 59 points in 51 playoff games, proving to be one of the most clutch players of his generation.

The Avalanche did very well without him last season, once again claiming the Central Divison crown. Their title defense ended in the first round with a seven-game loss to the Seattle Kraken.

Colorado is projected to reach the playoffs once again next season and should be a championship contender, meaning Gabriel Landeskog should get the chance to return within the year.

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3 potential Avalanche trade candidates entering 2023-24 training camp

The Colorado Avalanche are approaching the end of a longer offseason than usual after a shocking Round 1 loss at the hand of the Seattle Kraken in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After dominating the 2021-22 season and winning the franchise’s third Stanley Cup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Avs were once again the team to beat in the Western Conference last year.

Colorado’s Stanley Cup triumph in 2022 ended later than usual due to the season commencing later and the Avs didn’t properly begin the summer until the first week of July — a lot of that was probably spent celebrating. It makes sense that the team is itching to get back on the ice after an unusual offseason that has stretched for over four months.

Despite the disappointing exit in the 2023 postseason, the Avalanche remain one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are still at the top of their respective games, the blue line is elite and Alexandar Georgiev had a great first season between the pipes in Denver.

But it will be a new-look team in 2023-24; gone are the likes of JT Compher, Alex Newhook, Erik Johnson and Evan Rodrigues; they made room for the additions of Ryan Johansen, Miles Wood, Ross Colton and Jonathan Drouin. General manager Chris MacFarland might not be done after revamping the roster this summer, and with a tight salary cap to consider, there could be a few more players on the move approaching training camp.

Samuel Girard, D

Samuel Girard has seen his name swirling in the rumor mill for what seems like his entire Avalanche tenure. The team’s left side is quite deep, and the 25-year-old would probably have more opportunity, especially on the powerplay, in a different market. He’s capable of playing top-four minutes and is an outstanding all-around defenseman.

That was proven by the six goals and 37 points Girard managed in 2022-23, the best season of his career. The French Canadian’s value is higher than it ever has been, and he isn’t cheap at $5 million AAV for the next four seasons. With a few defensive prospects on their way up, including Sam Milinski and Mikhail Gulyayev, MacFarland could be looking to shed some salary. Girard is a prime trade candidate due to his elevated value and steep contract.

Josh Manson, D

A more under-the-radar defenseman that could be moved instead of Sam Girard is Josh Manson, who was traded to Denver from the Anaheim Ducks back in March of 2022. Manson is six years older than Girard, and is making just $500,000 less for the next three seasons. Manson is a solid top-four option when healthy, but that’s been a key concern throughout his career.

The Illinois native hasn’t played a full season since getting into 82 games with the Ducks in 2016-17. He only suited up for 27 contests for the Avs last year, which obviously isn’t ideal for a player of his age. Manson’s value probably isn’t as high as Girard’s, but his injury trouble could lead to MacFarland cutting the cord at some point during the 2023-24 season.

Pavel Francouz, G

The Avalanche are very soon going to have a three-goalie conundrum, as American Hockey League standout Justus Annunen seems poised to make the jump to the National Hockey League as soon as this season. Annunen was the backup goalie for a few games when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2022, and although he’s still pretty green in terms of NHL starts, the future is bright for the 23-year-old Finn. He has the upside to be a starting NHL goalie at some point in his career.

For that reason, it just makes sense to trade Pavel Francouz. A solid goaltender in his own right, Francouz is now 33-years-old and entering the final season of a contract that will pay him $2 million next season. He likely will not figure into the future of the team, as Georgiev is just 27 and signed for at least two more seasons. Dealing Francouz and elevating Annunen would give the team some cap relief, and allow Annunen to get a few starts under his belt in the big leagues.

It’s already been reported that captain Gabriel Landeskog will miss the entire 2023-24 season, but it’s not impossible that the Swede could return at some point during the end of the year or playoffs. It’s unlikely, but the team needs to put itself in the best possible position in terms of the salary cap, and that could lead to the departure of Sam Girard, Josh Manson or Pavel Francouz.

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Avalanche’s Cale Makar opens up on extended offseason rest after first-round upset

Cale Makar and the Colorado Avalanche had one of the shortest offseason in NHL history after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the 2022 Stanley Cup at the end of June. With a delayed season start and finish due to COVID-19, the Avs were off for only about two months before the 2022-23 season began.

It wasn’t the same story at the conclusion of 2023, as Makar’s squad was shockingly upset by the Seattle Kraken in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After an unusual offseason in Colorado that has stretched for almost four months, the superstar is ready to get back.

“I know a lot of the guys are itching to get back to camp,” Makar told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen on Tuesday.

“I feel like last year that was maybe not the thing you wanted to get back to it, you wanted a little bit of time to make sure your body and mentally you could recover from the run we went on. I think a lot of the guys are itching to get back now.”

It certainly was a longer-than-usual offseason for the Avalanche, who hadn’t lost in the first round since they were defeated by the Nashville Predators back in the 2018 postseason.

“It’s a win-lose scenario, but one of the things for us as a team being unfortunately eliminated early is it gave us a little more rest time,” Makar explained after the long offseason.

“For a team that was so banged up this past year and had so many man-games lost, I think that was huge. I think a lot of guys really took advantage. It mentally can give us a little bit of a break and clear it; guys can reset a little bit. Everything felt like it was in superspeed mode last summer.”

Cale Makar only played in 60 games last season due to multiple injuries, but the Canadian still managed 66 points while averaging over 26 minutes per night. He earned a Norris Trophy finalist nod for the third straight season and proved he’s still the league’s best defenseman.

It will be a new-look roster in Denver this year, with Evan Rodrigues, Alex Newhook, JT Compher, Lars Eller and Erik Johnson being replaced by Ryan Johansen, Jonathan Drouin, Miles Wood and Ross Colton.

But despite the roster turnover, the goal remains the same — bringing a Stanley Cup back to Colorado in 2024.

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Avalanche ink 2020 playoff boogeyman in intriguing PTO deal

The Colorado Avalanche were among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2020. A series against the Dallas Stars proved to be a tough test for them. It went to Game 7, and the Avs fell. Dallas won on the strength of a hat trick from undrafted free agent Joel Kiviranta. Now, Kiviranta is hoping to crack Colorado’s roster.

The 27-year-old Finnish forward has signed with the Avalanche on a professional tryout, as reported by DailyFaceoff. Kiviranta can still sign for another team should a guaranteed contract present itself. However, he can now play preseason games for the Avalanche under this agreement.

Despite the heroics in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kiviranta has yet to truly carve out a productive career in the NHL. The Finnish forward did set a career-high in goals this season with nine. However, he posted his worst points-per-game total in his career.

Kiviranta scored six points in the 2020 playoffs. And this past postseason saw the 27-year-old score five points for the Stars as they went to the Western Conference Finals. Beyond this, he just hasn’t provided much in the way of production.

The Avalanche have made some moves this summer. Forward Alex Newhook left the team via trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Colorado added Ross Colton, Ryan Johansen, and Jonathan Drouin as part of their flurry of moves, as well.

It’s an uphill battle for Joel Kiviranta to make the Avalanche roster. However, he’ll put in the work over the next several weeks to try and steal a spot on Colorado’s opening night squad. The Avalanche begin their 2023-24 season on October 11, visiting the Los Angeles Kings in LA.

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Former Sharks, Avalanche forward announces retirement after seven years in NHL

Former San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi has officially announced his retirement from the NHL. Donskoi spent seven years in the league, spending time with three different teams. The 31-year-old released a statement through his official Instagram account on Sunday night.

“After suffering multiple concussions over my career I’ve decided to retire from professional hockey,” Donskoi said in his statement. “It’s extremely hard to let go of something you have put your whole life into, but at this point I know it’s the right decision for my own well being and future.”

Donskoi entered the NHL as a fourth-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2010. However, the Finnish forward never signed with the Panthers. In 2015, he signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Sharks. He made his NHL debut in 2015, scoring 11 goals and 36 points in his rookie season.

Donskoi spent four seasons with the Sharks organization. The Finnish forward played 283 games in San Jose, scoring 45 goals and 122 points for the team. In July 2019, he signed with the Avalanche.

Donskoi produced his best scoring seasons with the Avalanche. In 2019-20, he scored 16 goals for Colorado, and he followed that up with a career-high 17 goals the following season. Donskoi joined the Seattle Kraken in the summer of 2021 through the NHL Expansion Draft. In his lone season with Seattle, the 31-year-old scored two goals and 22 points in 75 games.

“To all my teammates, coaches, trainers, doctors, front offices, and fans: thank you for the best years of my life. I met so many great people and lifelong friends, on and off the ice,” Donskoi said via his Instagram statement.

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