What We Learned From Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland

Colorado Hockey Now

You never know what to expect with these end of season press conferences, but I certainly didn’t expect 49 minutes of Gabriel Landeskog and Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland.

As you would expect, Landeskog had to field a lot of questions about his injury, recovery, and when he might return to the team. In fact, almost the entire first 1/3 of the press conference was about that, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. That meant a lot of waiting around for the Avalanche general manager, but the last portion of the press conference was almost exclusively centered around him.

MacFarland discussed various topics, including a big injury to a top six forward, how difficult this summer is going to be, and yes, the Valeri Nichushkin situation. We’ll dive a lot deeper into the Nichushkin situation in the coming days, because I found what Landeskog and MacFarland said about him to be interesting.

For now, let’s dive into what we learned today from Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland about how this team will move forward over the summer and beyond.

No Termination…Yet?

MacFarland confirmed that the Avalanche cannot terminate Nichushkin’s contract, but the wording around it was interesting.

“The obvious question is termination, right” he said. “And at this time, that’s not an option.”

Read that again.

“At this time.”

I take two things from that. One, the Avalanche almost certainly asked if they had grounds to terminate the contract once the news came down. Why wouldn’t they? And two, this might not be the end of the road for that option. While he’s in the program, his contract cannot be terminated, but maybe once he comes back, that can change.

Like I mentioned above, we’ll dig a lot more into Nichushkin in the coming days because both parties at the press conference said some interesting things, but it sure does seem like the Avalanche are going to explore all their options this summer with this situation. MacFarland really didn’t hide his displeasure.

“That Monday was very disappointing.”

One Big Injury

The Avalanche didn’t make it out of the playoffs completely healthy. Artturi Lehkonen, who scored 11 points in 11 games, needs offseason shoulder surgery and that will happen in the next week or so. Will he be ready for training camp?

“It’s going to be close,” MacFarland said.

Obviously, we won’t get confirmation on when the injury occurred, but I’m pretty sure it was right here at the start of Game One against the Dallas Stars.

MacFarland mentioned other guys had bumps and bruises, but as far as he can tell, that stuff should heal up and everyone else should be ready by September. We always get a surprise or two when camp starts, though.

Fitting Drouin In Might Be Tough

The situations surrounding Landeskog and Nichushkin are going to make this summer extremely difficult for MacFarland. That’s $7 million with Landeskog that you probably have to account for coming back onto your cap, and then you’ve got a little over $6 million with Nichushkin that could re-appear at any moment once he’s reinstated. That means they might not have a lot of wiggle room this summer, which means some guys might get squeezed out.

One guy being Jonathan Drouin, who had a career year with the Avalanche and fit in perfectly.

“With Drouin, that’s a different animal, right?” MacFarland said. “I’d be lying to you if I said it won’t be a challenge to get something done. At this time, we’ve got the cushion to deal with, you get 10% over the cap (in the summer), but the uncertainty of certain situations, we’ve got a lot of I’s to dot and T’s to cross to figure out on that over the next few weeks.”

All things equal, re-signing Drouin is a no-brainer, but they just simply might not have the cap space to do it. That uncertainty MacFarland is talking about is definitely the Landeskog and Nichushkin situations, and they might not have clarity on what’s going to happen there for a while.

Ritchie Doesn’t Sound Like An Option

MacFarland made it clear that the Avalanche will need to find lower AAV players to come in and play next season. You know what types of players carry low AAV’s? Rookies. That being said, don’t bank on Calum Ritchie being an option next season, although the team is looking to get him signed soon. I asked MacFarland about him and if he’s someone who could help if he has a big summer.

“He’s a young kid that has to get man strong and come into his first NHL training camp and we’ll see what he can do,” the Avalanche GM said. “I think Calum Ritchie, we can wait until he’s ready to thrive and he can come into a role where he doesn’t have to be counted on as a point producing guy from a young age, which I think can be a challenge, right? He can come in and grab a role and grow at a pace that allows him to thrive in the league and not just survive.”

The addition of Casey Mittelstadt certainly allows the Avalanche to play it slow here, but if Ritchie has a big camp, wouldn’t you at least want to give him a look?

Other Young Gave Have To Earn It

The Stars benefitted from young players on ELC’s making a big impact for them. Will the Avalanche make room for the likes of Nikolai Kovalenko, Jean-Luc Foudy, and Sam Malinski next year?

Sure, if they earn it.

“They have to get it done on the ice,” MacFarland said. “(Those three) should be dialed in to have great offseasons and to come in and kick the door down to make sure that the coaches and Joe and myself they’re NHL players. We believe there’s ability there to do that, but they have to earn it.”

I would be stunned if Kovalenko and Malinski aren’t on the opening night roster, but we’ll see. At some point, you have to give some young guys a chance to learn on the fly, even if it means they make some mistakes, and the start of the season is the best time to do that. I’d certainly give those guys a shot rather than bring back some aging veterans or go dumpster diving on the waiver market.

Speaking of that…

Veterans, PTO’s, Waivers All On The Table

MacFarland confirmed the Avalanche will explore all avenues to find players, including PTO’s and waivers.

“As we stand today, what I do know is we will need plenty of what we call lower AAV-types to fill out the roster with the information we have today,” MacFarland said.

The lower AAV comment is what sparked me to ask about the young players. He even said the $2 million that Evan Rodrigues signed for might not even be possible right now.

Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano are also still options to return, even as they get older and aren’t as effective anymore.

“I certainly think both can still play in the league,” he said. “They had good years for us, and as we said to them, for those guys, we can talk to them until June 30. I think we’ll get through our initial meetings internally and then make decisions on that.”

If those guys do come back, I believe there has to be some wiggle room. Jack Johnson doesn’t need to play 80 games, and Andrew Cogliano doesn’t need to play 75. They’re big guys in the dressing room and that’s hard to walk away from, but they don’t need to be everyday players at this point in their careers, at least in my opinion.

Landeskog Will Be Given Time

The Avalanche aren’t just going to tell Landeskog to go away or to make a decision on his future immediately. They have too much respect for him, and they want him back in the locker room.

“He’s a massive cog in what we’re trying to do,” MacFarland said. “And he’s earned the right to have as much time as it takes to get back on the ice. So absolutely it’s a cap challenge.But definitely hopeful and we’re going to be 100% behind him, like he said, whether it’s September, October, November, whenever that day is, we’ll be super excited to see it, that’s for sure.”

Stay tuned for a lot more from this press conference in the coming days on CHN.

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