Nikita Gusev’s contract resolution is the great mystery of the 2019 offseason. Reportedly, both sides would like a two-year deal with Gusev looking for $4 million per year and the Golden Knights wanting $2 million.
He’s arguably the best hockey player in the world to have never stepped foot on NHL ice. He might be Vadim Shipachyov. He might be Nikita Kucherov. He’s probably somewhere in between.
His situation is unique though as he’s a restricted free agent without arbitration rights. However, his ability (willingness) to return to the KHL leaves the Golden Knights in danger of walking away with nothing if a deal is not reached.
The eventual outcome of the negotiation will likely determine where Gusev ends up playing next season. If it’s closer to $2 million, he’s probably a Golden Knight, but if it’s pushing $4 million, he might end up being sent away via trade.
Since June 1st, 18 players have signed NHL contracts between $2-4 million AAV. They range from ages 22 to 35 including RFAs, RFAs with arbitration rights, and UFAs.
|Alex Chiasson||$2.15 M||22||38||16:58||4.0|
|Mattias Janmark||$2.3 M||6||25||15:13||1.3|
|Artturi Lehkonen||$2.4 M||11||31||15:33||2.3|
|Alex Iafallo||$2.425 M||15||33||16:50||2.3|
|Joel Armia||$2.6 M||13||23||15:48||2.0|
|Colin Wilson||$2.6 M||12||27||13:34||2.2|
|Carl Hagelin||$2.75 M||5||19||14:44||1.2|
|Richard Panik||$2.75 M||14||33||16:37||3.2|
|Danton Heinen||$2.8 M||11||34||13:58||3.3|
|Valtteri Filppula||$3.0 M||17||31||14:16||3.9|
|Kasperi Kapanen||$3.2 M||20||44||16:35||4.4|
|Ryan Dzingel||$3.375 M||26||56||16:49||5.7|
|Andreas Johnsson||$3.4 M||20||43||13:40||4.9|
|Micheal Ferland||$3.5 M||17||40||14:06||4.7|
|Alexander Kerfoot||$3.5 M||15||42||14:53||3.4|
|Brett Connolly||$3.5 M||22||46||13:20||5.2|
|Brandon Tanev||$3.5 M||14||29||14:07||2.7|
|Joonas Donskoi||$3.9 M||14||37||13:25||3.4|
Again, Gusev’s is unique, so the numbers don’t necessarily translate to his negotiation, but you can get a sense of what type of player you are getting between $2-4 million. By average, that’s 15 goals, 35 points, and 3.3 point shares for a player making $2.98 million.
Gusev could be better than that, but his inexperience at the NHL level, and on North American sized ice plays in the Golden Knights’ favor.
Understanding the type of player that falls into the range makes it even more imperative that George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon find a way to keep him though. On the high side, he needs to outperform Joonas Donskoi, who was a healthy scratch for the majority of the Sharks/Golden Knights series in the 1st round. In reality, to put up the numbers necessary to earn his contract he just needs to be adequate.
$4 million sounds like a lot, even $3 million can seem extreme for a guy with no track record, but bargain players help win Stanley Cups. If his game translates at all, he’ll blow these numbers out of the water, and he’ll be a steal. But even if they don’t, we’re talking about creating cap space by moving fairly insignificant pieces.
In a city that thrives on value bets, Gusev appears to be a can’t miss.