Renck vs. Keeler: Do Nuggets or Avs have more work left to get back to winning a championship?

Renck vs. Keeler: Do Nuggets or Avs have more work left to get back to winning a championship?

Categories: Sports, Nuggets, Avalanche
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Troy Renck: OK, the reality of the Nuggets’ elimination clobbered me over the head Sunday. And scratched my arms and hurt my back. Instead of spending the day in Dallas preparing for the Western Conference Finals Game 3, I removed a bush in my front yard. The bush won. But after my light head regained its bearings, I started thinking: Who has more work to do this offseason to win a championship? Is it the Nuggets or the Avs, who also exited in the second round?

Sean Keeler: Oh, that’s easy, compadre. It’s the Avalanche. Not only do the ’22 Stanley Cup champs have two holes among their top-6 forwards in the absences of Valeri Nichushkin and Gabe Landeskog, but the timetables involving both remain a mystery. With the former, he’s slated to get the first crack at applying for reinstatement from his suspension in November, which is great. But what happens after that? Big Val made it 40 games this last regular season before having to re-enter the player assistance program — and was brilliant for much of those 40 games, collecting 22 goals and 20 assists before leaving for roughly a month. How long will it take him to get back up to speed? How long will he be able to remain on the active roster under increased testing and monitoring cycles? Every week could feel like a roll of the dice.

Renck: For me, it is also the Avs. They remain in an uncomfortable position with captain Gabe Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin. Landeskog has five years remaining on his $56 million contract. He has not played in two years, and while his motivation remains fierce to play for his family and teammates, there is no guarantee he will return from cartilage replacement surgery in his right knee. And the Avs don’t just need him back. They need him back as an impact player.  We all want Nichushkin healthy. He cannot return until November from his suspension, and only if he follows the protocol. It creates a squeamish scenario of bringing Nichushkin back to a potentially untrusting locker room while getting elite production and wondering if he will be banned for his next misstep.

Keeler: If anybody’s going to fight to get back on the ice, and leave on his own terms, it’s Landy. Gabe’s joke last week about his return landing at any point from “mid-September and start of April” got some chuckles, but it’s also getting less funny by the month. In order to move forward, even in the short term, the Avs need to figure out whether they’ve got the cap money from an LTIR designation to play with or not — or whether they’ve got an active captain or not. If you don’t respect what Landy brought to the Avs over more than a decade, you haven’t got a soul. But nobody’s winning another Cup until all this murky and vague stuff has clarity.

Renck: The key for the Avs and Nuggets is winning in the margins. They need Botox, not facelifts. For the Avs, that means finding the next bargain contributors like Jonathan Drouin or, on the pricier side, Evan Rodrigues. They also should benefit from a full season of trade deadline acquisitions Casey Mittelstadt and Sean Walker. The Nuggets are likely to lose Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — the Sixers are the favorite — and Christian Braun is probably a year away from being ready to start on a championship team. So would the Nuggets consider a trade for a viable replacement? And let’s be honest, Nikola Jokic needs a backup to log minutes during the regular season, so how about dealing for Kelly Olynyk? The Nuggets cannot stand down and elevate next year.

Keeler: The good news? The floors for both the Nuggets and Avs are still relatively high and the cores are largely intact. For now. But the clock is ticking for Calvin Booth, too. There’s KCP. Jamal Murray can become an unrestricted free agent after next season. Aaron Gordon has a player option with a June 29, 2025 deadline. Jokic’s player-option deadline looms two years after that. Even if the Avs are happy to play the “long game” by waiting out Val and Landy, if the Nuggets think they’ve got the same luxury, they’re fooling themselves. Time flies when you’re having this much fun.

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