Avs sign Nichushkin to massive 8-year extension

    Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.

The Colorado Avalanche signed pending unrestricted free agent Valeri Nichushkin to an eight-year extension, the club announced Monday.

The contract is worth $49 million total with an annual average value of $6.1 million, sources told ESPN, confirming an initial report by The Athletic.

Nichushkin just had the best regular season of his career, posting 25 goals and 52 points in 62 games. The 27-year-old was then instrumental in helping the Avalanche secure their first Stanley Cup championship since 2001, adding nine goals and 15 points in 20 games. Nichushkin also played through a gruesome foot injury in Colorado’s Cup-clinching Game 6 that he suffered in Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Colorado’s investment in Nichushkin comes only a few years after the winger fell out of the NHL entirely. Nichushkin was selected 10th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2013 NHL draft and had a successful rookie campaign in 2013-14 with 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games.

Nichushkin was plagued by injuries in his sophomore season, and his performance suffered over the next two seasons. Ahead of the 2016-17 season, Nichushkin left the league entirely to join the KHL’s CSKA Moscow.

After two years overseas, Nichushkin returned to the Stars for the 2018-19 season and produced just 10 assists in 57 games. Dallas subsequently placed Nichushkin on unconditional waivers and bought out the final season of his deal.

That’s when Colorado stepped in. The Avalanche took a chance on Nichushkin and signed him to a one-year, $850,000 contract in August 2019. It was the perfect partnership of team and player, something Colorado coach Jared Bednar touched on often as Nichushkin emerged during the Avalanche’s Cup run.

“We brought him in, and his confidence was down,” Bednar said. “It’s built up over the years, and he’s [become] such a huge part of our team. The things he does don’t go unnoticed in our locker room and with all the other guys. They know the role he can play in our success. It’s the system that we play, and what we sort of demand of our players on the defensive side of it [that’s] a huge strength of Val’s. He’s a big, long, strong guy that can skate.”

Nichushkin’s long-term deal could also signal that Colorado’s other major free agent — center Nazem Kadri — won’t be back. Kadri had a career season as well (87 points in 71 games) and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 13. He’s expected to have several teams interested in his services, and the 31-year-old should command a major raise over his current salary of $4.5 million per season.

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