Saturday: As expected, Gusev has cleared waivers, reports Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, paving the way for his deal to be terminated.
Friday: The New Jersey Devils have placed Nikita Gusev on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a contract termination, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Notably, having his contract terminated tomorrow would give him time to sign a new deal (likely at a much lower salary) with another NHL team and be eligible for the playoffs. When the termination goes through, he will be an unrestricted free agent.
This may come as a surprise, given Gusev is forfeiting the $1MM remaining on his contract, but things had taken a terrible turn in New Jersey. The 28-year-old winger hasn’t played in a game for the Devils since March 20 and has just five points on the season. Made a healthy scratch many times by head coach Lindy Ruff, the two sides were heading to an obvious breakup in the offseason.
This move will expedite that estrangement but also gives Gusev a chance to land on his feet in a better situation. We saw almost the exact same scenario play out last season when Zach Bogosian terminated his contract with the Buffalo Sabres, only to sign a new deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning and win a Stanley Cup. While that is certainly a best-case scenario and not at all guaranteed in Gusev’s case, he could now sign a league-minimum deal with a contender to add some depth for a postseason run, while showcasing himself ahead of free agency.
After a long career in the KHL, Gusev finally came to North America at the end of the 2018-19 season, signing his entry-level deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. He never actually suited up for Vegas though, as an offseason trade took him to New Jersey with a new two-year, $9MM deal. As a rookie that looked like a steal; Gusev recorded 44 points in 66 games, finishing just one point behind team leader Kyle Palmieri. It hasn’t continued and now a $4.5MM average annual value looks like an impossibility on his next deal.
Still, for those teams looking at adding forwards before Monday, Gusev now becomes one of the most low-risk options available.