The New Jersey Devils acquired Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights in a deal that raises the question: should the Arizona Coyotes have targeted him too?
In exchange for the Russian winger, the Golden Knights received a third round pick in 2020 and a second round pick in 2021.
While not being able to match this deal exactly, as the Coyotes lack a third round pick next year, general manager John Chayka engages regularly in trades and could have put together a package that would match this value with relative ease.
The Devils swiftly re-signed the restricted free agent to a deal paying him an average of $4.5 million over the next two seasons.
This cap hit might be viewed by many as a risk, due to Gusev’s nonexistent NHL experience, but it’s a short term and could pay off in spades for the Devils.
For the Coyotes, they have the benefit of Marian Hossa’s contract being placed on LTIR the moment the season begins to give them extra space above the cap.
This extra space would have been enough to re-sign Gusev to the same contract he received from the Devils.
With the trade package and subsequent contract both seemingly fitting with what the Arizona Coyotes are capable of offering, should they have made an attempt to land the Russian?
There are a number of arguments for and against such a move, with Gusev’s zero NHL appearances a clear red flag for teams around the league.
While this might usually be a concern, Gusev has been one of the best Russian players outside of North America over the past couple of years.
Over the past three seasons, Gusev has registered over a point-per-game in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, posting 63 goals and 215 total points in 173 regular season games.
Gusev has also been a huge impact player on the international stage - leading his country to an Olympic gold medal and two World Championship bronze medals.
He has been shown to produce unbelievable highlight reels and is clearly an NHL-quality player that would have added another goalscoring threat for the Coyotes.
Gusev projects to be at least a second line forward in the NHL and adding a player that immediate upgrades the team’s offensive options and depth is something that the team should have seriously considered.
However, the 2020 NHL Draft is expected to produce quality players even in the later rounds, which may be a reason the Coyotes are happy to stand pat.
Keeping their first and second round picks next year will be important for Chayka, who is always looking at ways to improve the team for the long-term.
The added question of whether or not Gusev would have willingly signed a new deal with the Coyotes could also have been a factor in why the team seemingly did not make a move for him.
There are many things to consider in a potential trade, especially for a restricted free agent that has the option of heading back to the KHL, but it’s one the Arizona Coyotes may have wanted to give a closer look at given how things have played out.