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Exploring how the Blue Jackets can get Nikita Gusev

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Nikita Gusev, a superstar in the KHL and a Golden Knights RFA, could be on the move if the two sides can’t come to a new deal. GM Jarmo Kekalainen should be all-in, and we take a look at how a trade could get done.

Vegas Golden Knights v San Jose Sharks - Game Seven Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

You’ve provably been hearing something about Nikita Gusev the last few weeks. The 27-year-old RFA forward from Russia is a member of the Golden Knights organization, but they are in a salary cap crunch and struggling to come to an agreement on a two-year pact with the winger.

There’s, at the very least, an outside chance the Blue Jackets would consider kicking the tires on a potential trade to acquire Gusev — if they’re not already — as well as probably all other 29 teams as they monitor the situation in Vegas.

Plush with millions in cap space and looking to find some gems following the draft and free agency, Jarmo Kekalainen has never shied from making a bold statement on the trade front, from Brandon Saad to Artemi Panarin. And the current situation with Gusev resembles that of trading for Artemi Panarin a few years ago. While Gusev has never played a game in the NHL, he’s considered to be perhaps the best player, outside of the NHL, in the world, drawing at least possible comparables to Panarin.

Last season, Gusev put up 17 goals, 65 assists for 82 points in 62 games. he put up another 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 18 playoff games. He also put on a show for Team Russia in the IIHF World Championhips with another 16 points (four goals, 12 assists).

Imagine already the potential that a player like Gusev features on a team like the Jackets, as their cultivated crop of prospects begin to make their mark at the NHL level. Here’s a bit of a scouting report on Gusev, per Jesse Granger of The Athletic, first from reigning league MVP Nikita Kucherov:

“He’s a skilled player, smart player that can make plays,” Kucherov told SinBin.Vegas. “We played together as kids and it was nice to get back together and we had that chemistry back.”

And from Granger:

“The 26-year-old winger has a fantastic shot, great hockey IQ and exceptional vision. He does most of his damage from the left circle, where he either snipes shots on goal or dishes passes into the slot and through the crease. In 391 KHL games, Gusev has amassed 119 goals and 213 assists for 332 points (0.85 ppg).”

As cash-strapped Vegas tries to sort the situation without trading Gusev, they have already made deals this off-season in an attempt to clear space, while also locking up instrumental pieces. So far this summer they’ve moved Erik Haula to the Hurricanes, Colin Miller to the Sabres, and on Tuesday reached a one-year deal with RFA Malcolm Subban for $850,000. Let’s not forget they also locked up William Karlsson for eight years, $47,200,000, an AAV $5,900,000.

So per Cap Friendly, the Knights have no cap space as currently constructed with $5,250,000 tied up in long term injured reserve, belonging to David Clarkson, who has one more year before his contract expires. Because of that figure tied to Clarkson, the Knights are staring at a projected LTIR of $3,524,999 over the cap limit.

(You can learn more about the LTIR here).

Nikita Gusev

A veteran of the KHL and reigning MVP from super team SKA St. Petersburg, the Golden Knights acquired the rights to the Russian winger from the Lightning in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. He did come to North America and sign a 1-year entry level contract last spring during the Knights first round series against the Sharks, but never appeared in a game.

Vegas Golden Knights v San Jose Sharks - Game Seven Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

While it’s reported the two sides are $2 million apart in contract negotiations, President George McPhee has essentially acknowledged everything is on the table including trading Gusev.

Jesse Granger of The Athletic had this quote from President George McPhee:
“We think (Gusev) is a really good player. We’d like to work something out here, but if that doesn’t work out we’ll look at options.”

What we know

Vegas simply doesn’t have the cap room, at least right this second, to make a deal work. Columbus has settled all of their RFA contracts, outside of Zach Werenski, and they currently sit with a projected cap space of $15,765,918. Even with an eventual Werenski long-term deal locked up, they would still have the necessary cash to work something out to acquire the talented Gusev. And the Blue Jackets have more than enough assets to work out a trade.

Even though Ryan Murray re-upped for the next two seasons at $4.6 million per year through 2020-21, his name did surface prior to that deal at the beginning of the off-season in possible trade scenarios, namely with the Blackhawks. Now that he has signed an extension with Columbus, and though a trade centering around Murray doesn’t appear likely at this point, their current defensive depth chart looks something like this:

First Paring

Zach Werenski, Seth Jones

Second Paring

Ryan Murray, David Savard

Third Paring

Dean Kukan / Markus Nutivaara / Vladislav Gavrikov / Scott Harrington

Adam Clendening also just re-signed a one-year, two-way deal for next season.

On the defensive front, someone (plural?) is expendable.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There’s also a slew of forward depth talent in the organizational pipeline, as the next era begins to usher forward and could make a mark in the NHL as soon as this season. A guy that comes to mind who could probably use a fresh start in his NHL career — no not Alexander Wennberg, I mean sure but ya know — is Sonny Milano. With the recent UFA departures in Columbus, and because he’s no longer waiver exempt for 2019-20, Milano potentially has his best opportunity to stick on the NHL roster for Columbus. But we’ve seen that charade play out and it would seem as if both parties would benefit from a change of scenery.

And with the legal troubles following his arrest on Sunday to sort out, that kind of complicates things.

Initial gut-reaction trade proposal I thought of

Vegas acquires: Markus Nutivaara, Sonny Milano

Columbus acquires: David Clarkson, Nikita Gusev

Now I kind of doubt Vegas takes Milano based on his production to date, off-ice issues aside. Not to mention the value they’d likely seek for Gusev given his potential. But potential is just that.

Note: I was working on this potential trade including Milano prior to his arrest last Sunday morning in New York City. As a player who has seemingly been in need of a fresh start somewhere else, and currently without a contract as a restricted free agent, his already murky future in Columbus likely takes another hit with the arrest.

Whether any team would look to acquire Milano in a trade in wake of the arrest and alleged assault remains unknown. Especially Sin City.

I was among those ready to move Murray, based solely on his injury history, and he and Nutivaara are interchangeable in this scenario based on age (both are 25; Murray turns 26 in Sept.), and both are left-handed. Also, for the purpose of this trade, Nutivaara is making less AAV ($2.7 million) per season than Murray ($4.6 million).

Furthermore, from a simplistic viewpoint of it all and without getting you too boggled up with how the LTIR situation would work, the Knights subtracting Clarkson from their payroll obligations makes sense because it would put them under the cap. But according to The Athletic‘s Jesse Granger, Clarkson’s contract is not an issue.

I talked with Knights on Ice writer Ryan Quigley to try to gauge a potential trade for Gusev:

Ryan:

I predict a 2nd and 3rd for Gusev.

That’s probably the maximum return they’d get for him.

Will:

There’s a bunch of forward/defensive depth Columbus can trade.

Ryan:

I do feel like a second or third will be involved if he’s moved.

Will:

I’ll give you Ryan Murray.

Ryan:

No thank you.

Will:

He was fantastic last season.

When he was healthy.

Easily his best season.

When he was healthy.

Ryan:

Man he was a high draft pick too.

Will:

Yup.

I would trade Murray or Nutivaara, Milano, probably could throw in draft picks.

Ryan:

I think the Knights will want a really good prospect potentially.

So imo I think Gusev gets at the very least a third round pick.

It’s tough because he’s never played in the NHL.

On one hand he might be Panarin. On the other hand, he might be [Vadim] Shipachyov.


Even if the proposed trade I made is richer than what it would realistically take to make, the Blue Jackets have draft picks they could swap to facilitate a trade, but it seems likely someone else from Vegas has to move to further remedy their cap situation, as well as fitting their active roster. Perhaps players like Cody Eakin or Ryan Reaves, both with the upcoming season left on their respective contracts.

Note: I used CapFriendly Armchair-GM’s trade proposal simulation tool. As they note, “the cap hit of players on LTIR is not included in the teams cap hit value. This is a simplification for Armchair-GM that is not technically correct.”

According to this tool, the trade I made (link to trade inside), sending Nutivaara and Milano to Vegas for Clarkson and Gusev left Vegas’ unofficial cap figures $975,000 over the cap.

Poll

What would you give up for Nikita Gusev?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Nutivaara
    (117 votes)
  • 54%
    Other
    (168 votes)
  • 7%
    Wouldn’t trade for him
    (24 votes)
309 votes total Vote Now