Former Vegas Golden Knights forward Nikita Gusev was a restricted free agent, but he could not be signed to an offer sheet and was not eligible for arbitration. That left him in a tricky spot if he couldn’t reach an agreement with the Golden Knights on a new contract, and recently his Russian agent explained that there would be a deadline for him to consider a return to the KHL. That won’t be necessary, as instead the New Jersey Devils have acquired the forward in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick. The Devils immediately signed Gusev to a two-year, $9MM contract. PuckPedia reports that the deal will break down as follows:
- 2019-20: $700K salary + $4.3MM signing bonus
- 2020-21: $4.0MM salary + modified no-trade clause
The 27-year old Gusev was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2012, but has played his entire career in the KHL to this point. He signed a one-year entry-level contract with the Golden Knights earlier this year, but didn’t get into a game with the team down the stretch. His contract was still burned, leading to a difficult situation for Vegas. The team is in cap trouble this offseason and already had to trade away the likes of Erik Haula, Colin Miller and David Clarkson to get under the ceiling, making it tough to sign Gusev to a deal even approaching the $4.5MM average annual value he got from the Devils.
In New Jersey though, the Devils are be more than able to take a chance on a player that has shown an incredible offensive ceiling in the KHL. Gusev has routinely been among the league leaders in Russia, including a record breaking 82-point performance in 62 games last year. There’s no certainty to his game translating to the NHL, but the Devils have plenty of cap space and have built a nice core through the draft and trade market. Already this summer they have added first overall pick Jack Hughes, Norris-winning defenseman P.K. Subban and former powerplay specialist Wayne Simmonds to go along with names like Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. Bringing Gusev in gives them another weapon to ice against the tough Metropolitan Division as they try to make it back to the playoffs.
For Vegas, recouping some draft picks is at least a way of keeping their franchise at a high level moving forward. The team has spent a ton of prospect capital to acquire players like Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty through trade, leaving their cupboard a little more empty than George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon probably want. The team is already a Stanley Cup contender without Gusev on the roster, making this a little draft bonus to what they had built.
Still, losing out on a chance to add him to the lineup may turn out to be a mistake down the line. If Gusev is able to bring the same level of offense to the NHL he may immediately become one of the most productive players in the league, something the Golden Knights (or anyone) could obviously use. The Devils though will only have a short time to find out, as Gusev will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this two-year deal.
Jesse Granger of The Athletic reported earlier that Vegas gave Gusev permission to work out a deal with New Jersey.