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McPhee Happy To Stockpile Assets Rather Than Gamble On Gusev

Vegas moved forward Nikita Gusev to New Jersey for two draft picks

by Gordon Weigers @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

After making a pair of moves earlier in the summer that freed up salary cap space, Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee continued to create breathing room for the team by trading forward Nikita Gusev to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a 2020 third round pick and a 2021 second round pick.

McPhee spoke with media on a conference call Monday afternoon, and he said the contract Gusev asked for was reasonable but it wasn't a price tag friendly to Vegas' current situation. The trade is something that McPhee said is part of the team's strategy this summer to remain cap compliant while also fielding the best team possible.

"Some people believe that we are in a lot of trouble with the cap," said McPhee. "We didn't see it that way. We were aggressive and got to where we were over the cap and the plan all along was to make other moves this summer. We've made them all and we're in a good place."

VGK Insider Gary Lawless outlined a handful of options that the Golden Knights could have pursued to keep Gusev in the fold in a recent column. Those included restructuring the roster and creating holes in a boat that's already proven it can float. McPhee's choice to move Gusev has resulted in two valuable draft positions that can be used to add to a growing prospect pool or serve as currency in a future transaction.

"The contract at his request was more than what we thought was reasonable for us," said McPhee. "When it came right down to it, we elected to make the move and turn him into some draft picks that we could use in the future."

While McPhee mentioned the risk involved in trading a highly touted player from Vegas' standpoint, he acknowledged the Devils took a risk in trading draft picks for a player whose only NHL experience is a handful of practices.

"Unfortunately, I don't know if anyone knows what a player is going to be without having played some games in the league," McPhee said. "We think he is a very intelligent player, he's got very good hands, not a big guy and he doesn't have elite speed. It's hard to know exactly what he's going to be. He'll play in the league for sure. How good he will be is hard to know."

Though Gusev never saw action in a game for the Golden Knights, McPhee noted how important it was that he came over from Russia in April and signed an initial entry-level contract to remain with the team for its playoff run. Had Gusev remained in the KHL, McPhee said he would have become an unrestricted free agent during the 2020 summer and Vegas could have lost him with no return at all.

"He was highly motivated to come over," McPhee said. "He worked hard at it, we worked hard at it, to either play for us or to move him and come up with some other assets we could use as currency in the league to either make trades with or move up in the draft or use to draft players."

TRANSCRIPT OF VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS GENERAL MANAGER GEORGE MCPHEE'S CONFERENCE CALL

Thoughts on what led the Golden Knights to trade Gusev…

Probably our inability to reach a contract agreement that made sense for us. I thought we did a real good job last year of having the player come over. Had he stayed in Russia he would've been an unrestricted free agent next summer, so we wanted to get him over. He worked hard at it, we worked hard at it, to either play for us or to move him and come up with some other assets we could use as currency in the league to either make trades with or move up in the draft or use to draft players. He was highly motivated to come over. The contract at his request was more than what we thought was reasonable for us. When it came right down to it, we elected to make the move and turn him into some draft picks that we could use in the future.

Thoughts on how these moves have made the team better…

Well, we're a better team because we had depth in the positions where we moved players from. In moving Miller, we have lots of young defensemen that need opportunity and some defensemen that may become defensemen that are better than third-pair defensemen. With respect to Erik Haula, he didn't really play for us last year. We didn't know what to expect this coming year coming off of the injury. And we moved Gusev for draft picks. We are a team that, I believe, is a contender. It's a very good team. We've been very aggressive in signing our players to deals that make sense for the team now and certainly in the future. We now have lots of draft picks as currency, and we have spent to the cap to make it a good team. As you know, we weren't going to take our time with this team. We were going to be aggressive to make it a better team and we have. Starting last summer, either in acquisitions or in extending contracts, we've worked hard at that and now have a good team. The players that have been moved we don't believe take away from our core. We have players capable of stepping into those positions and we certainly held onto our high-end core and have essentially all of them under contract. We believe we're just as good or better than we've been. It's a very good hockey team and we're in a good place now. Some people believe that we are in a lot of trouble with the cap. We didn't see it that way. We were aggressive and got to where we were over the cap and the plan all along was to make other moves this summer. We've made them all and we're in a good place. There are pinnacle teams in this league right now that have big, big contracts to do. I would imagine there are some GMs right now that are a little nervous about what's going to transpire because they can't predict what's going to happen to their payroll. We're not one of those teams. We're in a good place. We know what our payroll is, we like our team, lots of draft picks and our core is signed up for a long time. We are a better team.

Thoughts on if the cap influenced the decision to trade Gusev…

I guess it did in some way, but we don't rely on those forecasts from the league because they've been different before. This was more about the contract ask being more than we thought. But really for us it was about getting this player over here and turning that player into a player for us or something else we could use, because sitting in Russia wasn't helping us. Becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer wasn't going to be very good for us. If we got him over this past season and gotten him signed, then we're working on a second contract. And if we can't get it done then we can trade him for something. Or if he decides at that point to go back to Russia, then we have defected status and we have his rights next summer that we would not have had, had he not come over in March. We knew there was a possibility that we might not be able to sign him, but getting him over here, I thought, was a victory for us and the player. And then deciding he either plays for us or someone else was the second step.

Thoughts on young players stepping up to fill holes in the lineup…

Well we're pretty high on some of our young players, defensemen and forwards and that's part of it. Again, a big part was either having him here or getting assets from other teams. There is risk in every trade you make and there's risk here in, will the player be better than we anticipated? And with respect to New Jersey, will he be as good as they anticipate? No one knows, but this became an asset for the organization from expansion. Tampa Bay asked us to take the Garrison contract, and with that contract he left a second and fourth round pick, I believe. Now we've moved a player for a second and third, so two seconds, a third and fourth to take the Garrison contract, I think, is a pretty good return. That's where we are now, and this is the move we made. Again, I really think we're a good club, no real weaknesses and young players to compete for positions on the team. This will be the first year where we really have some of our entry level players pushing for jobs, and if you want to be a good team in this league, you have to have young players coming in every year to fill holes for players who have gone elsewhere via free agency or players who have sort of aged out. If you don't have young players coming in, you're chasing free agents all the time. It gets expensive. It's a difficult puzzle to put together sometimes. And you can see where you're deep and where you can afford to let one guy go and let a young guy come in and hopefully, ultimately be better. That's how you become a good team and stay a good team.

Thoughts on why the Gusev trade now…

It really came down to two teams having serious enough interest to make offers. When you feel the time is right you do it because sometimes things change and those offers can evaporate. We felt like we had something that worked for us and so we executed.

Thoughts on if he only considered trading to an Eastern Conference team…

No, we were open to listening to all offers. You move a player to wherever gets you the best deal. There were two teams that were interested and made offers, we went back and forth for probably a couple of weeks. There is a certain time when it's time to pull the trigger and this was it for us because if this disappears then you don't know where you are in August and September. The time is right. If there were 10 teams or 12 teams coming hard after us then we would take more time, but there were two and there has been two for a long time so there was time to make a deal.

Thoughts on if he considered making any deals to clear cap space…

What was really important to us is we're a contending team. We've been a real good team and we expect to be an even better team this season. What we didn't want to do is tear the team apart to accommodate one player. We like the chemistry on our team and as I said we moved players that we could move without affecting the team. We believe we have replacements in house to fill those holes. So, no we weren't interested in moving other players. We like our players, we like our team, we like the chemistry and we didn't want to extract players from the team that could ultimately hurt us.

Thoughts on predicting Gusev's talent…

Unfortunately, I don't know if anyone knows what a player is going to be without having played some games in the league. We think he is a very intelligent player, he's got very good hands, not a big guy and he doesn't have elite speed. It's hard to know exactly what he's going to be. He'll play in the league for sure. How good he will be is hard to know.

Thoughts on Deryk Engelland's deal…

Well Deryk is a very effective player, he has played a lot of minutes for us. Very good penalty killer and everybody knows that Deryk is John Wayne-tough and has tremendous leadership. There is no question that we wanted him back, we made it clear to him during the season. It was just a matter of trying to get the numbers right. We knew basically where we wanted to be on the value, the structure was something that had to be worked on a little bit. We're delighted to have him back and so that is why we signed him.

Thoughts on Cody Glass and young players filling roles…

I'm reluctant to talk about individuals, I've tried to discuss our young defensemen as a group and forwards as a group. At the end of talking about a young player, maybe if there is another player who is expecting to fight for that job and haven't said a word about him then it doesn't make him feel very comfortable. We have a real good team, our core is intact, we have some openings for young players that can grab one of those jobs. We're breaking them in at the right pace. They don't have to hold down a big-time job on the team, they can go lesser minutes. We've got a good veteran core that they can rely on and the young guys can come in and push up from the bottom. Part of trying to be a good team is you have to have young guys coming in and can't be sinkers. The truth of the matter is you can't sign everyone in the cap world, it's why you have a cap and why the league came up with a cap. We're a team that has an owner that will spend and if it wasn't for the cap we'd be spending more. We have a cap, we can't sign everyone, so we better have some young guys coming along that can fill the holes. We believe we have some good, young players that will challenge for these positions.

Thoughts on if Russian players could have any negative opinions on the organization in the future…

I don't think so. Just look at the team that we put together in Washington many years ago. There was no shortage of Russian players and frankly we don't care where a player comes from if a player can help our team and make us better then we take them. I think the player in this instance completely understands, he's a good kid, we like him a lot after establishing a relationship with him over the last two years. He knew and we knew that if we couldn't come up with a deal that worked for us then he probably would be moved along. He wanted to play in the NHL and he's going to play in the NHL. We've got draft picks now that we can use as currency in future deals or just draft players. We're happy with where we are and I'm sure he is happy now that he's got an opportunity in New Jersey. I hope it goes well for him. To say that that is going to affect other Russian players from coming here, I don't think that would happen at all. Vegas is a very, very desirable place to play for players and we'll do our best to keep it that way.

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