CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — The first sign this wasn't a Gabriel Landeskog retirement announcement: The Colorado captain showed up wearing an Avalanche hat, shirt and shorts as if he'd just gone through a workout.

“I think I'd dress up a bit more," he cracked Thursday as he chatted alongside general manager Chris MacFarland for around 50 minutes about his health, the pain of watching the team being eliminated from the playoffs, Val Nichushkin's suspension and his desire to keep playing.

The 31-year-old Landeskog has missed the last two seasons because of his right knee. But he's making strides toward a return after undergoing cartilage replacement surgery last May. Precisely when he will be back, though, he's not quite certain.

“Between mid-September and the start of April,” Landeskog said with a laugh. “I feel pretty good about it.”

Like Landeskog, Nichushkin's status remains to be determined. The Russian forward received at least a six-month suspension without pay last week for violating terms of the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. He’s sidelined until some point next season.

But the door is open for Nichushkin to come back.

“Priority 1 is for Val to get the help he needs,” MacFarland said. “Assuming he does, and after the six months, we’ll have to read and react on that. But it's very plausible that he will be back with the Avalanche.”

Landeskog, the Avalanche captain since 2012, said he struggled with how best to help Nichushkin, whose off-the-ice issues led to him leaving in the middle of a second straight postseason.

“Immediately when the news broke, my reaction was, ‘What else could I have done?'" Landeskog said. "Everybody has their own opinions of the situation, but he’s a teammate of ours. We hope he gets right. We hope he gets what he needs and is able to come back and help us moving forward.

“He needs to look out for himself, but he also needs to be a part of what we’re trying to accomplish here, and I think that’s important as well.”

Landeskog skated with the team before they were eliminated in the second round by Dallas. After the series, coach Jared Bednar said Landeskog wasn’t that close to a return.

The player called “Landy” hasn't played since June 26, 2022, when Colorado beat Tampa Bay to secure its third title in franchise history.

“It's just kind of a slow form of torture,” Landeskog said of rehabbing and not helping in the postseason. “You want to be there to support them and just kind of go through all those things with them, whether it’s the ups or downs."

To return to hockey's summit, MacFarland said, the team needs a healthy Landeskog, who has five seasons left on a $56 million, eight-year contract signed in 2021.

“Listen, we can’t go and get a guy the caliber, the player or the person that Gabe is,” MacFarland said. “He’s a massive cog in what we’re trying to do. He’s earned the right to have as much time as it takes to get back on the ice. Absolutely, it’s a cap challenge."

Same with Nichushkin, who signed an eight-year, $49 million contract in 2022. There's a trust factor to win back, too. In a first-round playoff series a year ago against Seattle, Nichushkin abruptly left the team for what was explained as personal reasons. He missed the final five games of the postseason as the Avalanche lost the series 4-3.

“I think it's hard," MacFarland said of earning back trust.

Termination, MacFarland mentioned, wasn't an option at this time.

“The best thing I can say is we’re pulling for Val to do what he needs to do, to take care of himself,” MacFarland said. "Hopefully he’ll take the next six months to get himself right.”

Landeskog's injury stems back to the 2020 bubble season when he was sliced by a skate in a playoff game against the Stars. He said he suffered a cartilage injury on the bottom of his patella.

It's been a long road back.

“There are days when I go out there and I’d love to try to go for a max sprint for a puck," said Landeskog, the second overall pick by Colorado in 2011. "But I know that’s not going to be the best decision for my health. You’ve got to earn the right to do those things.”

Because his goal is not only to return for his teammates but for his family, which includes his young daughter and son. Just so they can see him play.

“I say I'm going to work but my son will question, ‘Well, you’re not skating, though, you’re not playing, so are you really going to work?’" Landeskog said. "I’ve explained to them that I need to get stronger. I need to get healthy.

"I just can’t wait to be back out there and give my family big hugs after the game. It will be pretty special.”