The Colorado Avalanche’s $13 million puzzle

Gabriel Landeskog made Denver journalists laugh Thursday by saying that he was hopeful of returning to the game next season “between September and mid-April.”


Posted at 5:23 p.m.

The Colorado Avalanche captain has not played a game in the last two campaigns. Knee pain and major surgery have kept him out of the game since he lifted the Stanley Cup in June 2022. However, he returned to practicing on the ice during the playoffs, without that a return to play date has yet been identified.

Sitting to his left on Thursday, his general manager Chris MacFarland was a good sport, smiling politely. Because the uncertainty linked to the fate of two major players in his team will have a direct impact on his summer which is beginning.

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PHOTO DAVID ZALUBOWSKI, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Colorado Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland

One of the most active teams in the league at the most recent trade deadline, the Avalanche made a big bet by acquiring several future restricted and unrestricted free agents. So many players who will find themselves without a contract on the 1ster next July.

We can therefore bet that MacFarland would greatly prefer to have the correct information on the presence, or not, of Landeskog at training camp, but also on the return, or not, of Valeri Nichushkin during the next season.

On May 13, a few hours before Game 4 between the Avalanche and the Dallas Stars, in the second round of the playoffs, we learned that the big forward had joined the NHL player assistance program. According to some media, he failed a doping test. However, as this was his second offense – “stage 3”, according to the terms used by the league and the Players Association – he was suspended without pay for a minimum period of six months, at the end of which he may ask to be reinstated in his team.

Under the circumstances, his name is removed from his club’s payroll… but this will no longer be the case when he puts on the garnet uniform again. The problem, for its CEO, is real. Should he plan for a return as early as November? Or in January? Or in the playoffs? Or not at all ?

By adding the salaries of Landeskog (7 million) and Nichushkin (6.125 million), there are therefore some 13 million which are suspended in Chris MacFarland’s budget. This while the team currently only has six NHL forwards and four defensemen under contract.

Change of tone

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PHOTO RON CHENOY, USA TODAY SPORTS ARCHIVES

Valery Nichushkin

The manager was lenient towards his two stars, although at different levels. Even if Landeskog’s file represents a “challenge” in relation to the salary cap, “he deserves to take all the time necessary” to get healthy.

The message was also kind to Nichushkin, “a human being, a father, a husband,” who should receive “all the help he needs.” The tone, however, has hardened.

The 29-year-old Russian is not at his first personal problems having an impact on his organization. Earlier this season, he missed two months of activities by joining the player assistance program. And a year ago, he found himself at the heart of a nebulous police case and, again, left the team’s entourage in the middle of the series.

MacFarland spoke in particular of the “disappointment” that Nichushkin’s most recent loss represented. Obviously, there is a bond of trust to rebuild.

“By assuming [qu’il revienne] in six months, we will have to take note of the situation and react, added the CEO. It is very plausible that he returns with the Avalanche. »

“He’s quite a player, but it’s a privilege to play in this league,” he continued. When you accept this contract, there are things you have to do. Val will take the next six months to get better. »

For the future, “we will communicate with the league”. We’ve already heard warmer remarks, let’s say.

In any case, buying out your contract is not seen as a feasible option. Given his age and the structure of his contract, the possible gains, on a financial level, would be marginal.

“Challenges”

Regardless, MacFarland swears not to be intimidated by the “challenges” that await him. He will sit down next week with his professional recruiters to target the organization’s main needs and analyze the state of the market.

We will certainly want to keep certain free agents acquired last March (Sean Walker, Brandon Duhaime, Yakov Trenin, etc.), but there will not be money for everyone. We will have to find replacement players at low salaries.

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PHOTO DAVID ZALUBOWSKI, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Jonathan Drouin

There is also obvious interest in retaining the services of Jonathan Drouin, an unrestricted free agent, who revived his career in Denver by amassing a career-high 56 points. However, even if the Quebecer accepted a relatively modest contract, he will undoubtedly earn much more than the $825,000 last year.

Professional trials, waivers, cheap free agents, rookie players: we will lift all the stones, assured Chris MacFarland. “But no position will be given,” he clarified.

“There are different ways to build a team around a group that is still very special,” he added, referring to MacKinnon, Rantanen, Makar and Toews, who carried the club at arm’s length in 2023-2024.

In short, he concluded, “the way [de trouver des joueurs] It doesn’t matter: we need guys who will help us win.”

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