The date is Saturday, July 20 and the Vegas Golden Knights have still yet to sign forward Nikita Gusev, who remains a restricted free agent. The Gusev saga has become a topic of hot debate among Golden Knights fans this summer, especially considering Vegas’ limited financial wiggle room. Should the Knights make room for Gusev, the former KHL MVP who is coming off an 82-point campaign for SKA St. Petersburg? Or should they trade the dynamic playmaker in order to acquire future assets?
There’s a case to be made for both scenarios. On one hand, Gusev could turn out to be a formidable weapon for the Golden Knights for years to come. But on the flip side, perhaps Vegas could strike a deal with another team that would make sense for them in the long term.
The way things are shaking out, it appears there are five scenarios that could unfold regarding Gusev’s future. Some of them are good, and some of them are not so good. Let’s start from the top and consider the most favorable outcome for the Golden Knights.
1. Golden Knights sign Gusev, Gusev is very good
This is likely the scenario most Golden Knights fans are hoping for. While the Knights would possibly have to make a trade (Cody Eakin or Ryan Reaves?) in order to clear more cap space so they can actually afford to sign Gusev, it would probably be worth it. Gusev has been one of the top international prospects for some time, and adding him to the lineup would immediately make the Golden Knights significantly better (especially on the power play, where Vegas struggled at times in 2018-19).
2. Golden Knights sign Gusev, Gusev is not very good
There’s no reason to believe Gusev will become anything less than a serviceable NHLer. But with any international prospect, there’s a chance that they could end up being another Vadim Shipachyov. And no one wants to deal with another Vadim Shipachyov.
Gusev seems to be the real deal, but he still needs to prove that he really is worthy of a contract worth $4 million annually, which, according to The Athletic’s Jesse Granger, is what Gusev’s camp is looking for.
Making the transition from Russia to North America isn’t always easy. For one, the ice is smaller in North America than it is in Europe, not to mention the obvious language barrier — Gusev still needs a translator to understand English. Will Gusev be able to make the same impact in the NHL that he did in Russia?
If the Knights sign Gusev to a deal close to what he and his camp desire and things don’t work out, not only will the Knights be spending a considerable amount of money on an ineffective player, but they’ll also be 0-for-2 with high-profile KHL stars. Not a great look.
3. Golden Knights trade Gusev, Gusev is very good
Though this may sound unfortunate, one could feasibly label this as the likeliest scenario regarding Gusev’s NHL future. It’s very possible that Vegas just won’t be able to clear enough cap space to sign Gusev to the deal he and his camp desire. And in this scenario, it would likely result in a trade that would send the 27-year-old to a team that can afford him.
What would the Knights get in return? It’s hard to tell. Though Gusev is an intriguing prospect, he has yet to play in an NHL contest and does come with a couple question marks. Still, Gusev is immensely talented, and the odds of him being a total bust aren’t all that high. It’s hard to envision a scenario more disappointing than Gusev playing at an All-Star level for another team while the Golden Knights get nothing but a pair of mid-round draft selections in return.
4. Golden Knights trade Gusev, Gusev is not very good
A good portion of the Knights’ fan base probably won’t be too pleased if Gusev is moved. But if he fails to live up to the hype, Vegas will look pretty smart for moving him before it was too late. Getting an early draft pick or two for a player who fails to translate to the NHL’s style of play? Not the worst outcome.
5. Comet strikes Earth, everyone dies
Okay, so this may not be all that realistic. But the world is going to end one day. That’s just a fact that we all have to live with. And what if it ends before the Golden Knights sign Gusev? Talk about a cliffhanger, eh?
There are literally thousands of comets in our solar system alone. For all we know, one (or more!) could be hurtling toward our planet at this very second! And we’d all die instantly! No warning or anything. Pretty wild, right?
Well, if that happens, you might as well chalk up Nikita Gusev’s contract negotiations at the very top of the “Things That Don’t Matter Because Earth is a Barren Wasteland” list. Everything will be turned to rubble (except for Keith Richards — he might survive somehow) and all things past and present will become meaningless, including Gusev’s contract situation.