NHL Puts Ex-Stanley Cup Champ on Ice Just Before Crucial Playoff Game

Colorado's Valeri Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months on Monday night

Colorado Avalanche right winger Valeri Nichushkin waits for the puck.

Valeri Nichushkin may have played his final game for the Avalanche.

By Evan Bleier

With the Colorado Avalanche readying themselves to play a crucial Game 4 against the Dallas Stars in the second round of the postseason, a story unfolded that could only come from the wacky, wild world of the NHL.

Trailing in their best-of-seven series 2-1, Colorado found out Russian right winger Valeri Nichushkin, the team’s leading scorer in the postseason with nine goals in eight games, would not be hitting the ice against Dallas because he had been suspended for at least six months without pay and placed in Stage 3 of the league’s player assistance program for violating the terms of Stage 2 of the program. The NHL and NHLPA jointly announced the 29-year-old’s suspension about an hour before puck drop.

Nichushkin — who missed part of the team’s playoff run last season for “personal reasons” after an intoxicated woman requiring hospitalization was found in his hotel room, and also missed nearly two months of the regular spending time in the league’s assistance program — recently failed a drug test, according to the Daily Faceoff. He can apply for reinstatement starting after the six-month suspension window. If Nichushkin has a violation of Stage 3 of the treatment plan, he’ll be suspended without pay for at least one year and his reinstatement to the NHL is not assured.

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In the second season of an eight-year deal worth $6.125 million per season, Nichushkin finished the regular season with 28 goals and 53 points in 54 games. For Nichushkin, who was part of Colorado’s Stanley Cup victory in 2022 and spent time with Dallas before going to the Kontinental Hockey League, the 2023-24 campaign was the best of his NHL career despite his off-ice issues.

Whether that career will continue in Colorado, or in the NHL in general, is now in question as there are some who feel that Nichushkin has used up his chances with the Avalanche. That’s certainly understandable as the Avs, who clearly had not been planning to play without Nichushkin, were routed 5-1 by the Stars on Monday and are now on the brink of elimination from the postseason.

Speaking after the game, Avs coach Jared Bednar told The Denver Post that he had “no idea” if Nichushkin and the team would ever be reunited. “Val is obviously struggling with something,” Bednar said. “I have two thoughts. Yeah, it sucks for our team. We’ve got to turn the page. We’ve got to go play way better than we did today…. The second one is I’ve gotten to know Val as a person and I’ve gotten to know him as one of our teammates and I want what’s best for him. I want him to be happy and I want him to be content in his life, whether that is with our team or not with our team. I want the best for him and his family.… Val is a big priority. And our team is another one. Now they are separated. They’re not together.”

And they’re going to stay that way for at least the next six months, if not longer.

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