Could Valeri Nichushkin win the Conn Smythe?

Justin Cuthbert and Julian McKenzie discuss whether or not Valeri Nichushkin's eye-catching performance in the Stanley Cup Final should command award attention.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Valeri Nichushkin mentioned Valeri Nichushkin earlier. He's been the standout, I think, at least in terms of forwards for the Avalanche. I keep saying the Lightning. It's, like, in my head-- like, if anything I should be saying positive--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Because we expect them-- we expect them--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --because we've just--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: --to be great.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --done that together over the last two years so much for so long. But the Colorado Avalanche-- if they're being led, at least up front right now, it seems like it's the Valeri Nichushkin who's at least assumed a lot of that credit here in this series versus the Lightning. Are you buying into any of the talk of him maybe winning the Conn Smythe?

I think, going into game two the odds were, like, ridiculous-- put a dollar down, win $125, like, long, long, long shot stuff. But I think it's down to, like-- you'd win only $25 if you did it this morning, after he scored another two goals in game 2, has three in the series, has 13 points in 16 playoff games. I don't know if that's Conn Smythe-worthy. But he has been a main driver here for the Avalanche. So are you buying into that narrative at all? Is there any chance that Valeri Nichushkin, from the back of the line, jumps in front and claims that individual hardware?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I like the idea of him being considered. I also, as another take away, probably should have taken you up on that $125. I could have won if I bet on it. I got to start really betting on these things and not just doing [INAUDIBLE].

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: It's worth a loonie, maybe.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah, I guess so. I wonder if people are still going to look at Cale Makar or someone else on the Avs. But I'll say this. The fact that he turned himself from a guy who seemed kind of lost in the NHL-- I remember he was in Dallas at one point. He just was not seeming to fit.

Then he goes to the KHL, then comes back. And he's turned himself into a solid contributor with the Avs. And it looks as if the Avs might want him back in for next year because he's going to be a UFA.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah. I think they want him back.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: As a Conn Smythe guy. I think if he continues to keep this up, you could make the argument he could be it. I think Cale Makar-- if he continues to put up points, which he should-- by the way, you probably might know this. But do there's only one other defenseman in the history of the league who has averaged more playoff points than Cale-- than Cale Makar per game? There's one defenseman, one.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I assume it's the great Bobby Orr.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: It is Bobby Orr. He is the only defenseman to average more playoff points per game than Cale Makar.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: That's career, too. That's not this run, right?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: That's career. That's career. That is career.

When you have that going for you, like, I think that's kind of tough to kind of go against Cale Makar playoff MVP. But Big Val has a very big case on his hands, considering how he and the rest of that supporting cast for Colorado have played. He's kind of led that charge, especially in the absence of, arguably, their biggest supporting cast member in Nazem Kadri, who, at this point, we might not even see in this series. The Avalanche might not even need him in this series.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: No, I don't think they're going to. Big Val has been amazing. But he's not a Conn Smythe guy. I mean, it's probably still Makar. The odds would reflect that.

I think a lot of the stuff you're seeing on broadcast with a little Father's Day, Cale Makar's dad, interviewed by Kyle Bukauskas, then scoring twice on both sides of the special teams equation. That shorthanded goal was so simple, but it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Like, he is so smooth. He is so graceful. It was just beautiful. I loved it so much.

And the fact that he was being able to that-- he was being able to get on the board with two goals, his first points of the series. I think his nose you know pulls out more in front of Nathan MacKinnon, who would be the other, I think, candidate for Colorado. He's been a little bit quiet he's been one of the few that haven't really registered on the score sheet yet in the Stanley Cup Final for the Avalanche.

But Nichushkin's making himself more money. He's making himself more of a brand name here in the Stanley Cup Final. And he's putting himself in position to make even more money, but he's probably not the Conn Smythe guy.

I was listening to "32 Thoughts" this morning, and Elliott Friedman made a good point on his future. He said that Colorado is prioritizing, bringing Nichushkin back. But more important than that, when it talks about a potential reunion or keeping him in the fold, is that he understands that it didn't work out in a different place. And you mentioned Dallas, where he didn't score a goal or have a penalty, not that matters, in 57 games.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: He didn't have a point in, like, a season or something like that.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah, just basically was irrelevant for an entire season. It didn't work there. And it is clearly working in Colorado.

So if he wants to be a productive guy, which I think he could do anywhere-- listen, I think he should make more money than Evander Kane in free agency. I think he should make more than money than Nazem Kadri in free agency. He's four years younger than Kadri. He's three years younger than Kane.


JUSTIN CUTHBERT: He's a defensive wizard. I would be trying to pry Nichushkin out of Colorado. But I think Friedman makes a great point in, that he understands that this is the best place for him. And if Colorado is going to prioritize has him in any way I think that probably means he's going back to the Avalanche, which is a great thing for Colorado.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I mean, if he can look good there and continue to win there, what else is there to complain about, I guess? I mean, fine, you can make some money in another market, but maybe it might not work out and you might end up getting bought out at one point. I like the idea that, if you're not going to make as much money elsewhere, you might as well do it on a team where you're going to, at least-- you're not guaranteed-- well, maybe guaranteed to make the playoffs and go on deep runs for the next how many years, not to mention playing alongside the great corps of Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar at all. If you're going to put yourself in a situation, that's a pretty good situation to put yourself in.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah I mean, if you could play with Nathan MacKinnon and you're going to run up 75% possession in the Stanley Cup Final and score three goals in two games, it's pretty obvious you're in the best spot. It might not be in the most profitable spot, but certainly the best spot to be a impact NHL player.

You mentioned making money. You can't really make that much money, I don't think, on the Conn Smythe trophy, if you're looking into that as you mentioned. Cale Makar is now a big favorite. Have to put $175 down to win $100. He's a minus-175 favorite. But maybe there's a little value on Nichushkin, if he keeps scoring goals for the Avalanche and making it a little bit more difficult for the Colorado Avalanche to maybe retain his services.