The New Jersey Devils continued to bulk up their roster by acquiring Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday and signing him to a two-year, $9 million contract.
Vegas receives a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2021 second-round pick.
The 27-year-old Gusev was originally a seventh-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012. He never came over, so the Lightning dealt his rights to Vegas ahead of the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft for Jason Garrison. The forward stayed in the KHL with SKA Saint Petersburg and scored 39 goals and recording 144 points over the last two seasons. Finally, he signed a one-year, entry-level contract in April with the Golden Knights and was with the team during the Stanley Cup Playoffs but did not appear in a game.
The Golden Knights had tried to re-sign Gusev, who was a restricted free agent ineligible for an offer sheet and without arbitration rights, but the two sides were far apart — reportedly $2 million — in negotiations as he sought a multi-year deal. Vegas is so tight up against the cap ceiling that they would have had to move out a few contracts in order to fit his deal. That clearly couldn’t get done.
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“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,” said Golden Knights general manager George McPhee. “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.”
Gusev could have returned to the KHL this summer if he did not sign a contract with an NHL team.
Considering what Devils GM Ray Shero gave up here, this is a worthy gamble to take on a player who is coming off an MVP season and averaged 0.85 points per game in 391 career KHL games. Shero has used this offseason to capitalize on the team’s biggest weapon entering the summer: cap space. After this signing, he still has a little over $12 million, per Cap Friendly, in room to continuing strengthening his roster.
From adding up front with Jack Hughes as the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft to bolstering the backend by trading for P.K. Subban to counting on a bounce-back year from Wayne Simmonds after signing him in free agency, the Devils’ aggressive approach to the offseason is hoping to pay off in two ways: get them back in the playoffs in 2020 and entice Taylor Hall to sign a long-term extension.
The on-ice product has certainly been improved this summer and keeping Hall in the fold would only continue moving the franchise a positive direction.
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.