If you had a nickel for every time Jared Bednar has been asked about Nazem Kadri's status during the Stanley Cup final, you could probably buy a majority stake in both teams set to face each other in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Bednar is likely fuming at all the free cash he's giving up, too.
Still, the Avalanche coach refuses to give a straight answer regarding his star center's odds of playing in Game 4, revealing only that Kadri is "progressing well" after undergoing surgery on his hand a little over two weeks ago.
"He's getting better every day," Bednar told reporters following morning skate.
"If he can do all the functions it can take to play a hockey game and he's feeling comfortable with it, he's a guy we'll want to put back in."
That's about as concrete an answer as you can get. And yet, all signs are pointing cautiously towards Kadri making his return to the Avalanche lineup for a crucial Game 4 tonight. The 31-year-old has recently graduated from going through individual skill work to participating in full team skates over the past few days, testing out his injured hand by taking shots in practice and even taking his usual place on the Avs' power play.
Nothing is for certain, of course. Kadri's recovery is an extremely delicate situation that could sway in either direction leading up to puck drop -- especially given just how important one's hands tend to be when playing hockey. But this is by far the most confident Bednar has sounded about Kadri's status since he went down in the first place.
And if he were to suit up tonight, his return could not be coming at a better time.
Despite the lopsided score, the Avalanche managed to show flashes of their usual brilliance during their 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Lightning in Game 3. The team's downfall lay in a few understated areas, namely allowing Tampa's forward to crash the offensive zone with unabated ease, and, most notably, being unable to solve Andrei Vasilevskiy despite throwing nearly 40 pucks at him.
With both Kadri and Andre Burakovsky out, the Avalanche's vaunted forward depth took a serious hit, and it showed, with the Lightning faring far better in the bottom-six matchup battle than they had in either Games 1 and 2.
Welcoming Kadri back into the fold, even if at less than 100 percent, would still be a massive boost for Colorado's coaching staff when it comes to formulating a matchup plan against a Tampa lineup that has last change.
After proving capable of handling top-six minutes in Kadri's absence, J.T. Compher could then drop back down the lineup where he'd face comparatively weaker competition, therein having Kadri slot in between the daunting duo of Artturi Lehkonen and Mikko Rantanen to give a boost to the Avs up top.
A Cogliano-Compher-O'Connor third line is a scary proposition for Lightning forwards, as each player displays the dogged puck hunger that makes going into the corners with them on a nightly basis a less-than-desirable activity.
From there, the Avalanche forward corps can fall into line like a game of Tetris.
Glue Guy extraordinaire Darren Helm returns to the fourth line in order to maximize his role as a face-off specialist and energy center. Bednar has already listed Helm as the one player he's thought to have elevated his game the most in the playoffs, which then gives him the choice between Nico Sturm's or Nicolas Aube-Kebel's to round out that final trio -- each presenting their own advantages as the last forward piece.
Oh, and then there's the power play.
If Kadri truly is healthy enough to play even somewhat near his full potential, his return would push the Avs' man-advantage attack from lethal to nuclear, strengthening one of the lone bright spots from Game 3, which saw Colorado's power play click at a 50 percent success rate on four chances.
Kadri's impact in the possession and scoring chance areas speak for themselves. The guy was rocking a 64.87 percent expected goal and 65.06 percent scoring chance share, respectively, when he went down in Edmonton. In fact, his 14 points in 13 games seem almost secondary, at this point. He'd be essential even if he was producing at half that rate. But he's not. And Kadri's ability to tilt the ice in his team's favor whenever he leaps over the boards is an invaluable luxury for an Avalanche squad that already boasts the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichushkin, and Mikko Rantanen up front.
Following perhaps their most pedestrian performance of the postseason, Kadri's return would be nothing short of monumental to the Avalanche's odds of closing this series out on Friday at home.
Now, all that's left is to wait and see.