Should the Canucks target Nikita Gusev?

After trading for forward J.T. Miller at the Draft and signing blueliner Tyler Myers on the opening day of free agency, the Canucks roster for the 2019-20 season is starting to take shape.

The team has been busy this week on the forward front, adding Justin Bailey and Tyler Graovac and re-signing Tyler Motte and Josh Leivo, but there are rumblings they are still looking to add a top-six forward.

One player the Canucks could target to solidify their top-six is 26-year-old RFA Nikita Gusev of the Golden Knights. Gusev, who was originally drafted by Tampa Bay 202nd overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, is a Russian KHL winger who is set to make his NHL debut. Vegas has run into cap issues and have already traded Erik Haula and Colin Miller this offseason to shed salary. Jesse Granger of the Athletic reports Gusev may be next to go.

According to Granger, the Golden Knights and Gusev are not close on working out a potential two-year deal.

“The sides have negotiated over the last few weeks with both seeking a two-year deal, but the gap between Vegas’ initial offer and Gusev’s asking price is as wide as $2 million per year, according to a source close to the negotiations.”

Gusev is arguably considered the best player in the world who is not currently playing in the NHL. He has been a point-producing machine for SKA Saint Petersburg in the KHL over the last four years and was named MVP of the league last season. Gusev has recorded 119 goals and 332 points in 391 career KHL games and was one of Russia’s top scorers when they won Olympic Gold at Pyeongchang. Gusev also showed his potential when he represented Russia at the World Championships this spring, tying Nikita Kucherov for the team scoring lead with 16 points in the tournament.

Gusev has a sick skill set that includes a lethal shot, good speed and fantastic playmaking ability. He’s an intelligent and creative forward who can make a major impact on the power play. Having played with SKA St. Petersburg since 2015-16, some of his highlights out of the KHL are jaw-dropping.

Gusev is too talented for Vegas to want to move him. They just can’t afford him. According to Cap Friendly, the Golden Knights are actually the only NHL team that is currently over the cap. The NHL cap for 2019-20 has been set at $81.5M and Vegas is currently at $84.2M. Even if they do find a way to work Gusev into the picture, he’s likely starting on the third line simply due to their stacked top-six lineup. Take into consideration the Golden Knights’ cap issues and Gusev not being guaranteed a top-six role and you can see why he may be making his NHL debut with a team other than Vegas.

Why it makes sense for the Canucks

Elias Pettersson is a world-class talent who is only going to get better. After Pettersson, there’s a drop-off in elite-level talent on the Canucks roster. Bo Horvat is one of the best two-way centers in the game and Brock Boeser is one of the best snipers. The team could use a player like Gusev to take them to that next level. If acquiring J.T. Miller is good enough for fans to feel confident in the top-six entering 2019-20, than the top-six could be set. Having Gusev, though, would give them that added element of skill. After all, there’s a reason the team has been rumoured to be targeting a top-six forward in free agency.

Trading for Gusev would take some of the pressure off younger players who are expected to take on a bigger role in 2019-20. Whether that be a player like Jake Virtanen or Adam Gaudette, Gusev could give them that reliable offensive production if things don’t get off to the ideal start next season. Gusev is also looking for short-term contract, meaning if his KHL success somehow doesn’t translate to the NHL level, the Canucks can chalk up their loss after a couple years and not have his contract on the books when Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes need new deals in 2021-22.

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Why it doesn’t make sense for the Canucks

Gusev is a proven goal-scorer in the KHL. He’s yet to produce (or even play) at the NHL level. There’s always a risk when a European player comes over the North America. Success internationally doesn’t always translate to North America. In Gusev’s case, though, when you watch his highlights and see his consistent production over the years, it’s hard to see him not being an impact player at the NHL level.

The problem for the Canucks however, is that they simply don’t have the assets for a trade like this. Vegas is also unlikely to want to trade Gusev to a division rival. The price of trading the Russian star to a Pacific Division team would almost certainly drive up the return cost.

The projected contract

Gusev is one of the best players who has yet to play in the NHL and he’s going to get a decent deal. Take a look at the last two players who came to the NHL from the KHL. Ilya Kovalchuk signed a three-year deal with Kings last offseason worth $6.25 million per year, while Vadim Shipachyov signed a two-year contract with the Golden Knights in 2017 worth $4.5 million per year.

Gusev had a whopping 82 points last season. Kovalchuk and Shipachyov both scored more goals in their final KHL season but neither has an 80-point KHL season to their name. It’s been reported Gusev is looking for around $4M per year for two years. Given his age and offensive upside, that should be a risk worth taking for many NHL teams.

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The Canucks cap situation

The Canucks currently have around $5.6M in cap space, according to Cap Friendly. They have 14 healthy forwards signed to NHL deals and still need to get Brock Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin under contract. Antoine Roussel, who is recovering from knee surgery, will also need a spot when he returns at some point this season. The only way this is working for the Canucks is if they can unload contracts. Loui Eriksson is making $6M against the cap in 2019-20, while Brandon Sutter will be making $4.75M. Eriksson has a NTC and Sutter has a modified NTC.

The Canucks unloading contracts in a trade for Gusev is exactly what Vegas wouldn’t want to do. They’re trying to get under the cap. The Canucks would need to make a separate trade with another team who needs to reach the cap floor. There isn’t much of a market for Sutter right now given his injuries and decline in production. Keep in mind that that the buy-out period for 2019 is now closed.

If the Canucks can find a way to free up that cap space, Gusev would be a great final piece to solidify their forward group for 2019-20.


Gusev is an unreal talent and it will be exciting to see him make his NHL debut. Given the Canucks needs and what Gusev brings to the table, they should at least consider if a trade for the Russian forward is possible.

With Boeser unsigned and having some unfortunate contracts on their current roster, the Canucks are in tough if they wish to pursue Gusev.

Gusev is scoring at a significantly higher rate than Artemi Panarin was before he came over to the NHL. There’s the potential for the Russian to become a special player at the NHL level. Despite the Canucks own cap issues, opportunities to acquire top-level talent for your top-six don’t come along often and Vancouver would be smart to look at their options when it comes to Nikita Gusev.

  • Flatus

    As attractive as Gusev is, I just don’t see the Canucks anywhere close to landing him. As pointed out, they do not have the assets necessary for a trade, unless it involves one of the core. Horvay or Boeser would be needed as EP and Quinn are likely out of the question. You aren’t going to get him for any form of secondary talent.
    Then there is the question of where to play him? It looks like the top 6 is pretty crowded already – but I suspect there is a way if needed.
    Thirdly, I have not seen any evidence over the past few years that the current management have the creative ability to pit together a series of moves, side deals or other trades to make this attractive to LV.
    So I have to file this one under the realm of pipe-dream!

    • Deliverator

      Lots of reasons why this makes no sense. VGK is trying to save salary. They can’t afford to sign Gusev at $4M, so they are not going to take back Horvat or Boeser, both who command $6M+. Also no GM in his right mind would trade a proven 50 or 60 point man for a potential 50 point player. Vegas knows this, and so their demands won’t be anything near that level.

  • speering major

    The Canucks absolutely have a gaping hole on the wing in the top 6 that needs to be filled. Gusev on a 2 year $4 million contract is an absolutely perfect fit for the team. I’m not sure about him as a player but if he can be a top 6 winger, the term is perfect. Pettersson and Hughes both need a raise in 2 years. Podkolzin should be ready to make his debut

    The Canucks need to move Sutter, Baertschi, or Eriksson. Moving Tanev is possible but it just creates another hole that will cost the money you’re trying to free up

    Eriksson is owed $9 million cash over the next 3 seasons. For a team with no cap concerns, his 6 million cap hit isn’t a factor. If the Canucks could retain some salary and add a sweetener, Eriksson could possibly be moved and only cost the recipient $1.5 million per season in cash while the Canucks free up $4.5 million in cap space

    I would think a team would take a chance on Sutter since when healthy he’s a useful shutdown 3rd liner that could also be an elite 4th line center that kills penalties, D zone deployment, face offs, etc.

    Baertschi is useful when healthy but I doubt teams will want to take a risk on him. I think the best chance to free up space is to move Sutter or retain some of Eriksson’s contract.

    All that said, LVK isn’t giving him up for nothing. I highly doubt Benning has the assets to make them happy

  • Killer Marmot

    The Canucks currently have around $5.6M in cap space

    Yes, but that’s based on 26 healthy players. Although the Canucks still have to sign Boeser and Goldobin, about 5 players on Cap Friendly’s roster will get sent down at the beginning of the year, and not count towards the cap. By my estimate, then, the Canucks have around $10 million in cap space to sign those two.

    As I understand it, Roussel will count towards the cap space at the beginning of the year even though he’s laid up.

    • j2daff

      they would save about at the very most 3.9M with the players they send down. I don’t see any other players with salaries low enough not to count against the cap in Utica that would be sent down and I’m even including Gaudette and Motte in that 3.9M even though I see them starting the season in the NHL. We are also ignoring the possibility that one of our prospects (Lind, Joulevi, Jasek, MacEwen, etc.) has a good off season and makes the team which would complicate matters more.

      This is also ignoring possible bonuses which are just under 5M that need to be accounted for by the end of the year as well and it’s unlikely that guys like Petey and Hughes miss out on all their bonuses. At this point there is not enough money to sign Boeser(who they should have signed before adding any other contracts) let alone bring in anyone else or sign Goldy without moving out money. Sutter and LE are not going anywhere without paying a team to take them and this team doesn’t have a low of options on what they could pay; high draft picks/prospects, Viranen? There are guys that could be moved like Virt, Baertchi, Tanev but moving them would create holes on the roster.

      • Ken Priestlay Fan

        The Canucks would get $1.05million cap relief on each player if they put them in the minors. In reality, Sutter is fairly easily tradable (so long as you’re not precious on the return) and Eriksson would bolt for the KHL or SHL.

        On Gusev, what would the offer sheet cost be if they offered him, say, $4.5million per season for 4 years? They shouldn’t have to because Vegas simply doesn’t have the cap to sign him, but that would be the ceiling on any offer. All this talk of needing to offer Horvat or Boeser is nonsense. I’m not saying he’s available for future considerations, but he may genuinely be in the “reasonable prospect and a mid-round pick” territory. LV are not going to want roster players coming back unless they are on league minimum. Waiver exempt prospects and/or picks are what will get this done.

  • Fred-65

    As exciting or tempting this sounds it is clear that Vcr is suffering from problems of its own making. There is way too many mediocre players on the roster taking up way to much Cap space

    • Sedin33

      That’s why signing 3 bottom six players last year was ill conceived. Benning has eroded much of his flexibility with his free agent signings over the years.

  • Defenceman Factory

    It shouldn’t be that difficult to cut 4 million off the books but the canucks need to fire sale out some guys.

    Send Schaller down. That saves a million. If some one claims him it’s almost 2 million. Trade Baertschi for a 4th rd pick and retain 1.6 million that saves another 2 million. Trade out one of Leivo or Motte for a late round pick or an AHL player.

    Another route would be to trade Sutter for a 4th rd pick and retain 2 million. I don’t think any of these trades are good value but if you wanna get er done there are ways.

    • Bud Poile

      I’m hoping Tanev can be traded .Add in a surplus forward to sweeten it.
      Take the cap space and sign Gardiner.
      A solid ,offensively competent d-corps should cover the offensive deficiencies.

      • DJ_44

        Max amount of a salary that can be buried without affect on the cap is about $1M (I think it is the max value of an ELC which escalates every year).

        Burying any salary above that amount does not result in additional savings against the cap.

          • j2daff

            can confirm your formula as I looked it up as well although it’s not $700k+375K as it is the first figure is the league minimum salary which is now 700k. Also keep in mind that even though the team saves that much sending the player down they also have to replace that player in the “23” with a player making close to the same so it’s not a lot of savings.

  • J-Canuck

    Even reading the fist 2/3 of the article, I kept saying….AND what do we trade? It makes for a good article, but Vegas in the division would want a Hughes on an ELC or VP #10 pick this year.
    It’s an interesting thought but tough to pull off.

  • TD

    Gusev is an RFa, but is he eligible for an offer sheet? If he is, then give him the 4 mil offer sheet. That would only cost a 2nd round pick which seems worth it. If Vegas matches then they will have to deal with moving contracts to come under the cap. The Canucks should be able to shed is but to get under if needed. The highlight reel looked impressive.

  • Kanuckhotep

    If Gusev is the son of the Gusev of the famed ‘72 Summit Series Soviet team then the guy has pedigree. Nice fantasy to sign this player but would cost Benning on a team with too many forwards already. Can’t touch Bo, Brock, Petey or QH or what’s the point of having these superb draft choices?

  • Burnabybob

    I wonder about trading Podkolzin for Gusev plus something else, like a prospect or high draft pick. The Canucks would need cap space to make it happen, but it’s an interesting thought. And if the Canucks goal is to make the playoffs this year, Gusev could make that happen.

  • Puck Viking

    Would a team like Ottawa take Sutter, gold and LE? The only bad salary is LE but at least he can actually still play. Offer those 3 for a 7th rounder. Ottawa is a young team who could use some defense first forwards and goldy is a bit of a lotto ticket as it who knows what youll get out of him.

    Offer Lind and Rathbone? or something like it for Gusev.

    LE shed salary would cover most of brocks deal and sutters would cover gusev.

  • Burnabybob

    I wonder about trading Podkolzin for Gusev plus something else, like a prospect or high draft pick. The Canucks would need cap space to make it happen, but it’s an interesting thought. And if the Canucks goal is to make the playoffs this year, Gusev could help make that happen.

  • EP40MVP

    i doubt the canucks would be able to get gusev that saying if they are able to somehow get him he can easily rip the league up. Hes fast he can score highly skilled i remember him in the WJC’12 he was absolutely amazing i was suprised he was picked in the 7th RD in that year’s draft. Height wise hes small which i think is why teams shy away from him? At his age now he’s shown hes the best player outside the NHL just like radulov did. Even if the canucks can’t get him whoever acquires him will have one heck of a player. I was always suprised as to why he never made the move to the NHL earlier can easily be a calder candidate for next year if he still qualifies.

    • jaybird43

      You may not have seen him play? Consistently has a high level of starts in the DZone. Back checks like the Tasmania Devil. Drives through guys to get the puck, or take it to scoring areas. Had a plus minus of just -4 on a team that had a -29 goal differential. THAT Bo Horvat.

  • Holly Wood

    Good article, lots of interesting comments on trade scenarios and offer sheets and clearing salary cap. One thing was left out of the story, he is 5’9” tall and weighs 154 lbs…………

    • Rodeobill

      well, we’ve beefed up the ranks a bit this summer, might not be too big a concern. Depending on the sacrifices made to get him, seems like a good lottery ticket to do well.

  • harpdog

    This Bennings fault by signing players to no trade contracts. You just can’t do that anymore. The money game and winning go hand in hand. Benning treats the players like friends not employees. No trade has to stop if this team ever wants to win. Or firs Benning or hire some one who negotiates better deals

    • CamBurkePQW

      Another smurf and he is Russian – hard pass.

      Excellent post harpdog. Benning continues to hand out BOTH top dollar, picks and NM/NT clauses like confetti and cakes at a fat couples wedding .

      The big diff between this bumbling clown and the triumphant, genius Gilman/Gillis capologist axis is that G&G were able to sign elite and solid core players below market value time and again to keep us one of the very best teams in the league… sadly those days of respect, glory and SC Finals are now long gone and we will NEVER see them again under the disastrous mis-management of Weisbrod/Benning aka the players and agents best friend. Sad times.

      • Beer Can Boyd

        No doubt Gillis and Gilman were geniuses when it came to contract negotiation. Unfortunately, they were also bozos when it came to drafting. I know Brackett was a Gillis hire, too bad he didn’t give him free reign at the draft table earlier. Gillis would probably still be here, and we wouldn’t have had to suffer Beagle, Ericksson, Sutter, Gudbranson, Schaller, Del Zotto, Gagner…. the list of terrible signings by Benning is seemingly endless. Personally, and going by what my Buffalo and Winnipeg friends say about him, we’ll soon be adding Myers to that list of disasters.

        • CamBurkePQW

          Very true about Myers Beer, at 29 he is what he is… Buffalo gave up on him, that says it all lol

          Disappointed in this #fakenews narrative from you about Gillis’ drafting though dude. Don’t be fooled by trolling mugs like Dud, marmot and ‘defenceman factory’ bro, they are WRONG…

          Our only NHL GM of the year Mike Gillis was *not* hired by ownership to focus on drafting – he was employed to get us over the playoff hump during the franchises Stanley Cup window because Nonis and Burke couldn’t… and he did that in spades, coming within one game of immortality whilst owning the regular season for years.

          Beer, the Canucks were so good under GMMG he NEVER had a top nine first round pick **10th (from Nonis), 22nd, 115th, 29th, 26th** that’s it!!!,… until he was finally given the nod from ownership to start focusing on the draft in 2013… where he then pulled Captain elect BOWIE HORVAT out of the hat with a franchise changing draft day trade. Truly outstanding. Perspective and truth required Beer… Benning has had NUMEROUS top ten picks since 2014… how has that worked out in terms of playoffs and titles again?

          Have another brewski and THINK about it Boyder.

          • Beer Can Boyd

            I do understand he wasn’t hired for his drafting acumen, BUT….. Hodgson, Schroeder, Jensen, Gaunce, and Shinkaruk, all as first rounders is still a terrible record.

          • Beer Can Boyd

            You are right about top 10 picks though. I was just looking at some of those draft years, and the drop off after #10 is staggering. Gillis drafted Shinkaruk at #24, but there really wasn’t anything else left at that point.

          • Bud Poile

            That’s a revisionist fairy tale,Boyd.
            There were 32 players drafted after Shinkaruk that played over 100 NHL games.9 players have played over 200 NHL games.

      • Flatus

        I am not sure I buy into this line of thinking. Other NHL players that checked in around the 5’9” mark include:
        Doug Jarvis – 964 consecutive games @ 5” 9”
        Henri Richard – 11 Stanley Cups @ 5’ 7”
        Stan Smyl – first Canuck retired jersey @ 5’ 8”
        Theo Fluery – over 1000 points in 1000 games @ 5’ 6”
        Cliff Ronning – 870 points in over 1100 games @ 5’ 8”
        Martin St Loius – over 1,000 points in over 1100 games @ 5’ 8 Games,
        Yvan Cournoyer – 863 points, 968 games, Conn Smythe winner @ 5’ 8”
        Stan Mikita – 1467 points, 1394 games @ 5’ 8”

        Not that I am saying Gusev will be like any of these guys, just pointing out that there have been very successful smaller players throughout NHL history. It all depends on the player involved.

        See also Gaudreau, Johnny; Dionne, Marcel; Boudrais, Andre.

          • CamBurkePQW

            Welcome to the show Flatus – liking your posts so far.

            Thing is you are cherrypicking elite/HoF smurfs here to fit your narrative… you may as well add Patrick Kane to that list as well.

            My point is this, smaller players have to be truly outstanding and at his age KHLer Gusev isn’t, so I see no reason in having him – Boston out muscled us in 2011 and St Louis won the cup playing big, tough and physical this season, so that’s the way too move forward now. We have too many wimpy smurfs already, so unless it’s Pat Kane it’s time to man up in the West.

        • canuckfan

          The league was trending towards speed but with the latest playoffs the draft went towards bigger defenders and offensive players being selected over smaller players. With the league now trending to a bigger player we will now have to wait if that translates back to a rougher game with more dump and chase using the wingers size to hammer the defenders.