It was a huge acquisition when the Vegas Golden Knights convinced Russian superstar Nikita Gusev to come to North America and sign his entry-level contract last season, even if it did mean he would be a restricted free agent again without ever playing an NHL game. Gusev’s one year deal expired after the 2018-19 season regardless of whether the Golden Knights gave him any playing time down the stretch—which they did not—and now he’s in a contract negotiation with them as an RFA. Unfortunately, that negotiation does not seem to be going smoothly as Jesse Granger of The Athletic (subscription required) reports the gap in salary is still $2MM per season. Igor Eronko of Sport-Express explains on Twitter that Gusev is looking for a two-year, $8MM deal while the Golden Knights want to sign him for half of that total.
Vegas president George McPhee admitted that if they can’t work something out they will look at all the options, and noted that there is interest in him around the league. That’s not a surprise given Gusev’s incredible record in the KHL. The 26-year old forward scored 82 points last season in just 62 games for SKA St. Petersburg, his third consecutive season recording more than a point-per-game. Those kind of totals don’t happen often in that league, leading some to believe that he could have a similar impact as some other Russian imports over the years—Artemi Panarin, who just signed a seven-year, $81.5MM in free agency, is the most common comparison.
NHL success though is not guaranteed. For every success story from the KHL over the years there have been equal numbers of failures, including one that Vegas fans should be quite familiar with. Vadim Shipachyov, who has also been a better than point-per-game player in the KHL several times, failed to find any opportunity with the Golden Knights for one reason or another and ended up terminating his contract in order to return to Russia. Shipachyov recorded 68 points in 61 games for Dynamo Moscow last season in the KHL.
Gusev may be a dynamic offensive player in the NHL, but the Golden Knights simply can’t afford to pay him $4MM as their salary structure is currently constructed. The team already has had to dump good players this offseason to make room for what they already have, and adding another player like Gusev without knowing exactly what his impact will be could be risky. That said, there are plenty of other teams who would be able to take that risk and likely will be lining up to hear what it would cost to acquire him.