Can the Rangers acquire and fit dynamic talent Nikita Gusev

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In the past week, rumors have surfaced about 27 year old Nikita Gusev being available and the Rangers, as always, are one of the candidates. With a little over 8 million dollars in cap space, and 4 RFAs still to be signed (Trouba, Buchnevich, Lemieux and DeAngelo), can Gorton make it work? Let’s dive into that but first: Who exactly is Nikita Gusev?

When the Tampa Bay Lightning used a 7th round pick back in 2012 to select Nikita Gusev, no fan could have predicted how well the then 19-year old winger would develop. Celebrating his 20th birthday just 2 weeks after the draft, Gusev was draft eligible for the 3rd time that year, having gone undrafted in both 2010 and 2011.

Gusev just finished a historic season in the MHL, putting up 76 points in 34 games in the regular season, and followed it up with 33 points in 19 games. He also played 15 games in the KHL that year for CSKA, one of the top teams in Russia. Gusev was dealing with a problem similar to Vasili Podkolzin this year. When you are part of an organization like CKSA or SKA, you know it is hard to make the team with the depth they have. Gusev played 3 full seasons in the MHL and was over a point per game in each of those. After a short stint with Amur Khabarovsk, and 2,5 years with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, Gusev joined SKA St. Petersburg in December 2015.

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It was a match made in heaven for the then 23-year old winger who hasn’t finished a season under a point-per-game since. In the summer of 2017, Tampa Bay traded his rights to the Vegas Golden Knights as payment for taking Jason Garrison in the Expansion Draft. In his final 3 years in Russia, he registered 215 points in 173 reg. season games, and 34 points in 24 games in 3 World Championships. During the 2018 winter Olympics, he tallied 12 points in 6 games for the OAR team (Olmypic athletes from Russia). A few months ago, Nikita Gusev’s contract expired and he opted to move to North America. He reached an agreement with the Vegas Golden Knights on a 1-year ELC that would kick in immediately to reach RFA status this summer. And here we are.

Gusev finds himself in a situation where, despite being a restricted free agent, he has some leverage to determine where he goes. The Vegas Golden Knights offered him a 2-year contract worth 4 million dollars (2m AAV) but Gusev asked for twice that amount during negotiations. The newest team in the league is in a tight spot right now, being over the salary cap by 2.6 million.

With the Rangers signing Panarin, Kravtsov, Rykov and Shestyorkin this off-season, adding to the 3 other Russians, Georgiev, Namestnikov and Buchnevich, it makes sense the Rangers are named as a possible destination. Gusev has played with Shestyorkin and Rykov for SKA, played with Panarin, Georgiev and Buchnevich for the national team, the connections are apparent.

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But can Gorton make it work? The Rangers have some cap issues themselves to take care of first but I feel it’s definitely a possibility and Gusev would be a great replacement for Chris Kreider who, by all accounts, is on his way out this off season. With both Strome and Namestnikov on 1-year deals, they are enticing pieces to acquire for other teams. Namestnikov has been linked to several teams and the Rangers shouldn’t have a problem finding a trade partner for either of them. Chris Kreider is a hot commodity this off-season now that Panarin is no longer available and he should return some nice assets as well. If Gorton manages to offload all 3 of those, he frees up 11.6m which, added to the 8m we have at the moment would give us 19.6m in cap space.

If we help out Vegas financially by taking on Ryan Reaves and his 2.7m contract, it gets the Nevada-franchise closer to be cap-compliant, and the payment for that would be Nikita Gusev. Ryan Reaves would add some grit and a physical presence to the team to add to Brendan Lemieux and Anthony DeAngelo, which should be music to the ears of fans of more physical hockey. Ball-parking the numbers for the remaining RFAs (including Gusev), the Rangers can be cap compliant with the following deals:

Jacob Trouba: $7.75m/8 years
Pavel Buchnevich: $2.5m/2 years*
Brendan Lemieux: $881,125/1 year**
Anthony DeAngelo: $906,499/1 year**
Nikita Gusev: $4m/2 years

There are a lot of question marks surrounding Gusev and his future in the NHL, but the Rangers definitely can make it work to fit him in. The question now is: Will Jeff Gorton pursue Nikita Gusev? Having watched Gusev for years in Russia, and at the Olympics and Worlds, I would love to add a dynamic winger of his caliber and with him on the market, every team should jump at the opportunity.

* Pavel Buchnevich has indicated he does not want to sign a long-term deal, but instead wants to settle for a bridge deal, which would come at a lower AAV, but would give the winger an opportunity to earn a larger contract in 2 years.

** The contracts listed about for both Brendan Lemieux and Anthony DeAngelo are their qualifying offers. When a player reaches restricted free agency status, the team has to give them a qualifying offer to retain their rights. After July 1st, that player can choose to sign that qualifying offer. For players earning between $750,000 and $1m, the qualifying offer is a 5% raise for 1 year. With both players not being arbitration eligible, they don’t have any leverage, but signing this 1 year deal would bring both players to arbitration eligibility in 2020, giving them the opportunity to earn a bigger pay day.

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