The Vegas Golden Knights have traded restricted free agent forward Nikita Gusev, the former MVP of the Kontinental Hockey League, to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick and 2021 second-round pick, the team announced Monday.
Dan Rice of The Hockey Writers was first to report of the potential return to Vegas in exchange for Gusev, who scored 82 points last season with SKA St. Petersburg.
The dealing of Gusev practically caps off an offseason for the Golden Knights that ends in, what could be, the worst case scenario. Once Vegas signed William Karlsson to his eight-year, $47.2 million deal on June 24, the cap-shedding moves were on the way. The Golden Knights traded forward Erik Haula to Carolina on June 27, and defenseman Colin Miller was shipped to Buffalo the following day.
Those were two moves that, at the time, were destined to clear enough cap space to sign Gusev to the allotted $4 million AAV deal he had been seeking this offseason. However, no deal came to fruition, nor did any trades of potential players such as Cody Eakin, Ryan Reaves or Nick Holden be entertained in time.
The Devils announced they signed Gusev to a two-year, $9 million deal ($4.5 million AAV).
“We did our best to accommodate Nikita and his salary request but were unable to do so. He is a good person, a good player and we wish him well in New Jersey,” Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said in a statement provided by the club. “When you have a roster comprised of players who are deserving of a certain salary range you are not always able to make room for everyone. This is the reality of having a good team in the salary cap world.
“After this trade, we now own nine picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts. These picks will help boost our organizational depth and add to our pool of prospects. Although we were not able to make this work I am really happy with where we are at with our roster.”
With the signings of goaltender Malcolm Subban and defenseman Deryk Engelland, the last remaining free agent on the Golden Knights’ agenda now is defenseman Jimmy Schuldt. The young RFA defenseman is expected to be in the line of competition for a starting spot on opening night.
But with Gusev off to New Jersey (and that’s another subject matter in its entirety, good lord the Devils will be good), the Golden Knights now have a clear idea of what their roster will look like. They’re going to be a playoff team once again, but one can only wonder, ‘what if?’