Where is Valeri Nichushkin? Why Avalanche winger is banned for at least 6 months

The Avalanche’s mission heading into the playoffs was to put the disappointment of 2023 behind them and get back to the top of the mountain two years after winning the Stanley Cup. This mission just got a lot more difficult.

Missing from Colorado’s brief playoff run in 2023 was Valeri Nichushkin, who served as a key offensive player during the organization’s championship run last year. Nichushkin’s absence was not due to injury and initially created some mystery around one of the Avalanche’s most important pieces.

Now the Avalanche are suddenly without Nichushkin again. The 29-year-old scored nine goals in Colorado’s first eight playoff games and opened the playoffs with a goal in seven straight games before going scoreless in the team’s Game 3 loss to the Stars on Saturday.

Here are the details on Nichushkin’s absence and when he’s expected to be back on the ice.

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Where is Valeri Nichushkin?

Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months on Monday, the NHL announced. The league placed Nichushkin in the third phase of its player assistance program, a move that includes a six-month suspension.

Nichushkin must apply for reinstatement after six months, meaning he will miss at least the first month of the 2024-25 season.

The Avalanche winger first found himself in trouble just before the start of the playoffs in 2023, when he left the team and missed Colorado’s first-round loss to the Kraken.

The absence was mysterious at the time, but later reports detailed an incident at a Seattle hotel in which police were called and a “drunk woman” was found in his room. No charges were ever filed, but Nichushkin was kept away from the Avalanche until the end of the season.

Here’s a closer look at the reason for Nichushkin’s recent absence.

What did Valeri Nichushkin do?

According to Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli, Nichushkin recently failed a drug test.

While a failed drug test alone may not be enough to warrant such a lengthy suspension, Nichushkin’s prior acceptance into the NHL/NHLPA’s Player Assistance Program required him to be placed in the third phase and immediately suspended for at least six months.

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What is the NHL Player Assistance Program?

The NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program was created in 1996 and helps players struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.

The program consists of four phases:

  • Stage one: entry into the program; No punishment.
  • Stage two: A violation of the first level will result in a suspension without pay while the player undergoes treatment.
  • Stage three: A Stage Two violation will trigger a suspension for at least six months, followed by a request for reinstatement.
  • Stage four: A level three violation will result in a minimum one-year suspension, with no guarantee of reinstatement.

Nichushkin participated in the Player Assistance Program last regular season, and his suspension on Monday is an indication that he was in the second phase of the program at the time. That means the Seattle incident in April 2023 likely led to his entry into the first phase of the program.

Nichushkin’s failed drug test landed him in the third phase and ended his season with an impressive playoff run with nine goals in eight games.