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Golden Knights must win big to justify trade of Nikita Gusev

Updated August 1, 2019 - 3:49 pm

The piercing wail rifled through Raiders training camp Monday in Napa, California, and someone suggested it originated from the team’s soon-to-be new home of Las Vegas.

Which meant one of two things:

First, the infestation of grasshoppers had been momentarily disregarded for the city to uniformly curse the weather gods about the inferno cursed upon the valley.

Second, the Golden Knights had traded Nikita Gusev.

In terms of heat ratio, the latter produced far more enraged locals than any thermostat reading.

At its most basic level, the Knights this week didn’t keep the consensus best player in the world outside the NHL over what amounts to a few million dollars.

But these things are never really basic, are they?

Mostly, it seemed as if the Knights never had a solid plan in terms of getting a deal done with Gusev, which at best is shocking and at worst nearing inexcusable.

Salary cap issues

If it’s as simple as general manager George McPhee shipping Gusev to New Jersey for a second- and third-round pick because the Vegas boss didn’t think the player was as good as advertised, that the reigning points leader and star forward from the Kontinental Hockey League just didn’t fit coach Gerard Gallant’s system, so be it.

Because if he’s good enough, you find a way to keep him.

But these things are never really simple, are they?

Do you find it odd that Gusev suddenly became a lot smaller and slower in the minds of those within the organization?

Man, guys sure do get a lot worse after you trade them …

And then there is the question of term.

How could the Knights be surprised about the sort of deal Gusev sought when they set the market for such a contract by signing Russian center Vadim Shipachyov out of the KHL in May 2017 for two years at an average annual value of $4.5 million?

A player who was 30 at the time and not near as highly regarded as the 27-year-old Gusev.

Gusev signed a two-year deal with the Devils for, wait now, an average annual value of $4.5 million.

And the Knights were perplexed about what it was going to take to keep him?

Come on. Of course they weren’t.

Bottom line: McPhee chose the roster he has over making the moves necessary to sign Gusev and fulfill salary cap obligations. That is fine, as long as the Knights win big and Gusev doesn’t become the next Artemi Panarin.

If they don’t and he does — or even comes close to such a level — history will paint this as a total disaster for Vegas, and McPhee will be judged as much for dealing Gusev as he has been for trading Filip Forsberg when he was the Washington Capitals’ GM.

Rolling with roster

Were there any takers for defenseman Nick Holden’s bad contract to help make room for Gusev? Could the Knights have included Ryan Reaves in such a deal to free up even more space? They paid those two a total of almost $5 million last season and yet couldn’t make something work with Gusev? Did all the long-term deals bestowed in the past year come back to bite the Knights on the salary cap more than first imagined?

They’re all possibilities. The good news for McPhee is that his team has a chance to be really good for at least the next few years.

It’s good enough now to win a Stanley Cup.

Should it do so, Gusev will immediately become an afterthought in Las Vegas to a level that rivals the next Elvis impersonator.

I’m not sure they had a plan for Gusev, nor am I sure how desirable a market there was for those the Knights would have been willing to move to keep him.

Be sure of this: McPhee is rolling with his team, and the core, as long as it remains together, better prove him right and make a Cup run in the next two years.

Meaning, despite the many nice things McPhee said about Gusev while he was here, you know the words inside him now go something like this: Man, I sure hope this guy stinks.

Because if he doesn’t and the Knights aren’t as good as everyone believes they’ll be, the Vegas takeback for that level a player isn’t squat.

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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