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.
- Gusev would be under contract as soon as March 6th (His current team trails 2-1 in a best-of-seven series)
- Gusev would be an RFA upon his contract’s end, thus keeping him under VGK control
- Gusev could sign a longer-term deal as soon as July 1, 2019
- Gusev would be eligible to play for VGK immediately and participate in the playoffs because he is on VGKs Reserve List. (CBA 13.23)
- Gusev would earn a larger sum of money quicker by burning the ELC year, which is likely what he is looking to do
- The ELC year would be wasted and Gusev’s cap hit would likely be larger than $925,000 in 2019-20 when VGK has less cap space
- If Gusev chooses to return to Russia, VGK loses his rights. (CBA 10.2 (b) (ii) (A) (4))
- Gusev’s cap hit would be around $1,000,000 in 2019-20
- Gusev becomes a UFA following the one season, making him eligible to leave Vegas without VGK getting anything in return
All of this is, of course, hinging on the situation that SKA St. Petersburg’s season ends prior to the Golden Knights. If SKA wins the Gagarin Cup, Gusev could be playing until April 25th at the latest. The NHL playoffs begin on April 10th.
The decision is likely going to come down to what Gusev is looking for money-wise. If he’s worth $5+ million, the Golden Knights would probably be wise to take advantage of the ELC year and then roll the dice they can re-sign him prior to free agency. However, if he’s more in the $2-3 million range, it would likely be best to get the ELC year out of the way and then extend him for two or three more at the modest cap hit.
Only Gusev knows what it takes to get him to the NHL. Recent reports indicate he’s strongly considering making the move, and from what I see, it’s not crazy to think that could happen within hours of SKA’s elimination from the KHL playoffs.
So, there you have it, that’s the best I can do on the Gusev situation.
CBA Article 9.1 (c)
Notwithstanding the chart set forth in (b) above, a Player who at the time he was drafted was playing for a team outside North America or who meets the qualifications set forth in Article 8.4(a)(v) (a “European Player”) who signs his first SPC at ages 25-27 shall be subject to the Entry Level System for one (1) year. A European Player who signs his first SPC at age 28 or older is not subject to the Entry Level System under any circumstances.
CBA Article 9.3 (a)
The maximum annual aggregate Paragraph 1 NHL Salary, Signing Bonuses and games played bonuses permitted to be paid to a Group 1 Player in each League Year of his first SPC shall be as follows:
Draft Year – Compensation
2005 – US$ 850,000
2006 – US$ 850,000
2007 – US$ 875,000
2008 – US$ 875,000
2009 – US$ 900,000
2010 – US$ 900,000
2011 – 2022 – US$ 925,000
CBA Article 9.3 (b)
The aggregate of all Signing Bonuses attributable to any League Year to be paid to a Group 1 Player may not exceed 10% of the Player’s compensation for such League Year. Games played bonuses attributable to a League Year shall be included in compensation for that League Year at their full potential value (i.e., assuming all such bonuses are earned) and shall be treated as Paragraph 1 NHL Salary. A Group 1 Player may not contract for or receive any bonuses whatsoever other than a Signing Bonus, a games played bonus and Exhibit 5 Bonuses.
CBA Article 10.2 (a) (i)
Any Player who either has seven (7) Accrued Seasons or is 27 years of age or older as of June 30 of the end of a League Year, shall, if his most recent SPC has expired, with such expiry occurring either as of June 30 of such League Year or June 30 of any prior League Year, become an Unrestricted Free Agent. Such Player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with any Club, and any Club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with such Player, without penalty or restriction, or being subject to any Right of First Refusal, Draft Choice Compensation or any other compensation or equalization obligation of any kind.
CBA Article 10.2 (b) (ii) (A) (4)
the Player, having become a Defected Player pursuant to Section 10.2(b)(i)(B), and having played no more than two (2) full seasons with an unaffiliated club(s), has become free of any obligation to such unaffiliated club(s) during the off season and has not, prior to thirty days thereafter, entered into a valid SPC for a period which includes the current and/or following season for his services as a professional hockey player with the Club which last had the NHL rights to negotiate with such Player;
CBA Article 12.1 (A)
A Player is eligible for salary arbitration if the Player meets the qualifications set forth in the following chart and in Section 12.1(b) below:
First SPC Signing Age 18-20 4 years professional experience
21 – 3 years professional experience
22-23 – 2 years professional experience
24 and older – 1 year professional experience
CBA Exhibit 5 – Performance Bonuses
The maximum amount payable for any single category of Individual “A” Bonuses identified below is $212,500 per season. (For example, an Entry Level SPC may not contain bonuses of $212,500 for 20 goals and an additional $212,500 for 30 goals, provided, however, it may contain a bonus of $100,000 for 20 goals and $112,500 for 30 goals). An Entry Level SPC may contain any number of Individual “A” Bonuses; however, a Player may not receive more than $850,000 in total aggregate Individual “A” Bonuses per season. Individual “A” Bonuses are payable by the Clubs (as opposed to the League).
(i) Ice time (aggregate and/or per Game). Player must be among top six (6) forwards on the Club (minimum 42 Regular Season Games played by Player and comparison group). (Note: an Entry Level SPC may contain bonuses for both aggregate and per Game ice time; however, the maximum aggregate amount the Player may receive on account of the ice time category is $212,500.)
(ii) Goals: 20 Goal Minimum
(iii) Assists: 35 Assist Minimum
(iv) Points: 60 Point Minimum
(v) Points Per Game: .73 Points Per Game Minimum (minimum 42 Regular Season Games played)
(vi) Plus-Minus Rating: Among top three (3) forwards on the Club (minimum 42 Regular Season Games played by Player and comparison group).
(vii) End-of-Season NHL All-Rookie Team
(viii) NHL All-Star Game (selected to play or plays)
(ix) NHL All-Star Game MVP
CBA Article 13.23
In the event a professional or former professional Player plays in a league outside North America after the start of the NHL Regular Season, other than on Loan from his Club, he may thereafter play in the NHL during that Playing Season (including Playoffs) only if he has first either cleared or been obtained via Waivers. For the balance of the Playing Season, any such Player who has been obtained via Waivers may be Traded or Loaned only after again clearing Waivers or through Waiver claim. This section shall not apply to a Player on the Reserve List or Restricted Free Agent List of an NHL Club with whom the Player is signing an NHL SPC or is party to an existing SPC with such NHL Club.
The full CBA can be read here. If you find anything you believe I may have wrong, please do not hesitate to point it out.