Like with many Russian players, the Nikita Gusev contract situation is a difficult one. From how I understand it (and I could be wrong, but I will show my work with all CBA excerpts cited at the end of this article), the Golden Knights have two options with Gusev.
But before we get to those options, let’s explain a few things first. First off, Nikita Gusev was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lighting in 2012 but never signed a contract. He was then traded to Vegas as part of the Expansion Draft. Because he never signed that first NHL contract, he remains property of the Golden Knights indefinitely. (Kelly McCrimmon recently confirmed this on the VGK Insider Show) In other words, when Gusev comes to the NHL, he’ll come as a Golden Knight, no matter when it happens.
Next, Gusev was born on July 8th, 1992, making him 26-years-old. Per the CBA Article 9.1 (c), Gusev is required to adhere to the NHL’s “entry-level system” if he signs a contract prior to turning 28. Therefore, if Gusev signs an NHL contract this year (2018-19) or next year (2019-20) he would be forced to sign a one-year contract with a max value of $925,000. (CBA 9.3 a)
There are some performance and signing bonuses possible, which do count against the salary cap, that could allow Gusev to earn an extra $825,000. The signing bonus is probable, which can be up to 10% or $92,500 (CBA 9.3 b). However, most of the performance bonuses are unlikely as Gusev would have to be an extraordinary player to receive them. Such options are 20+ goals, 35+ assists, and .73+ points per game. (CBA Exhibit 5-Performance Bonuses)
So, it’s reasonable to believe Gusev’s entry-level contract will be about $1,000,000 against the Golden Knights cap. Incredibly cheap for a player of his caliber.
Which brings us back to the two options on when the Golden Knights can/will sign him.
Option 1: If Gusev were to sign prior to the Golden Knights season ending this year, he would earn a pro-rated portion of the one-year entry-level contract for as long as he’s with the NHL club. The contract would end when the Golden Knights 2018-19 season concludes, thus it would “burn” his entry-level contract requirement. Gusev would not qualify as an unrestricted free agent (CBA 10.2 a, i). Instead, he would become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights and need to sign a new contract with VGK to remain in the NHL. (See CBA 12.1 A)
Option 2: If Gusev waits until after the Golden Knights season ends, he would have to sign the one-year entry-level contract worth a maximum of $925,000. However, when the year is up, he would be 27-years-old and thus qualify as an unrestricted free agent. (See CBA 10.2 a) He could not sign an extension with Vegas until January 1st, 2020, and could choose to reach UFA on July 1st, 2020.
This is where it gets incredibly tricky for the Golden Knights as both options have major benefits but also massive potential drawbacks. I’ll break it down the way I was taught by my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Pope, using a pros and cons list.