The Colorado Avalanche lead the Tampa Bay Lightning two-to-nothing in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, and a major reason for their lead has been the play of winger Valeri Nichushkin. The Russian winger, who once went 91 straight games without scoring a goal, scored two goals last night on top of a goal and an assist in Game One to raise his total to four points in the first two games of the series. Nichushkin has been a revelation in Colorado since returning to the NHL after a two-year KHL stint, and the former Dallas Stars top-ten pick had 25 goals and 52 points in 62 games. That performance has led many to believe that Nichushkin, a pending unrestricted free agent, will earn a long, lucrative contract this summer.
According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the Avalanche are hoping he can find a contract he likes in Colorado. Per Friedman, Colorado has “made him a priority” and have indicated to Nichushkin that they “would like to keep him.” The Avalanche have to hope that Nichushkin values his incredible fit in Colorado more than making the absolute most amount of money he can on his next deal. With Nathan MacKinnon’s inevitable mega-extension on the horizon and potential long-term deals for Nazem Kadri, Darcy Kuemper, Andre Burakovsky, and Artturi Lehkonen to consider this offseason, the Avalanche may not be in a position to offer Nichushkin the sort of money he could be offered from elsewhere. So while we don’t yet know exactly what Nichushkin is looking for this summer, we know the Avalanche are going to try their absolute best to keep him.
Now, for some other notes regarding Colorado:
- Another important pending UFA in Colorado is winger Burakovsky, and like Nichushkin he has also had a strong start to the Stanley Cup Final. Burakovsky, who was once a healthy scratch in these playoffs, has three points against the Lightning so far, including two points last night despite missing a solid chunk of the game due to an injury. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar issued an update on Burakovsky’s injury today, saying that the winger did not travel with the team to Tampa, is undergoing further evaluation, and will join the team in Tampa tomorrow. While the Avalanche have a commanding lead in the series, the team is already without crucial players in Kadri and Samuel Girard, so they have to hope that whatever Burakovsky is dealing with won’t keep him out for long.
- Speaking of Kadri, while it was once believed that he would be out for a period that would in all likelihood stretch past the end of the Avalanche’s season, that may no longer be the case. Bednar said today, per Joe Smith of The Athletic, that Kadri flew with the team to Tampa and is “hopeful” that he’ll play in the series. He said that he considered Kadri out “day-to-day” as well. The Avalanche are looking to capture the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001, and are getting closer. But they have to know that the Lightning, the back-to-back defending champions, won’t go down without a fight. Getting Kadri back would go a long way towards giving the Avalanche the unshakeable confidence they’ll need to finish the job and end the Lightning’s time at the top of the league.