The New Jersey Devils placed forward Nikita Gusev on waivers today.
It was somewhat surprising to see, despite the fact that Gusev has been a scratch at times for the Devils. He was a highly touted KHL forward and the Devils gave up both a second and third-round pick to get him two years ago. Gusev had a good first year with the Devils but has struggled this season, with just five points in 20 games. These numbers are enough for some to dismiss the idea of taking on Gusev’s expiring contract, which carries a $4.5 million AAV.
But despite a rough stretch, Gusev’s ceiling is much higher than what those numbers represent.
Last year, Gusev had 13 goals and 44 points in 66 games, a pace of 55 points per 82 games. He did that despite a shooting percentage of just 8.2 per cent and an average of under 15 minutes per game. He also had a higher corsi for percentage than any other player on the Devils to finish the year with the team and was someone I suggested that the Islanders could target in the offseason.
As for this season, there are some indications that Gusev’s production should bounce back, at least to an extent. His shooting percentage is just 4.4 per cent and New Jersey’s shooting percentage is also just 4.4 percent while he’s on the ice, which is lower for him than any other player on the team. Gusev also has the third-highest corsi for percentage on the Devils this season and his shots per game average is only slightly lower than last season.
We know the Islanders need to add a winger in the top-six with Anders Lee injured, even if it didn't look like it in tonight's game. While other forwards would cost picks and prospects, Gusev could be added for free and the Islanders have the cap space to do it, with Lee on Long-Term Injured Reserve. Given that Gusev is on an expiring contract as well, there wouldn’t be any implications past this season.
That said, while the Islanders do have cap flexibility right now, their space certainly isn’t unlimited. Claiming Gusev would significantly limit their options in terms of any other deadline moves. He also isn't an overly fast skater and isn't going to help to make up for the scoring the Islanders lose with Lee out. The Islanders are in a spot to contend this season – do they really want to take a gamble with their valuable cap flexibility?
I think given that there's still time until the deadline, the Islanders won't put a claim in and are likely to test the market instead. Even if they did put a claim in, they wouldn't have priority over many other teams.
But if the Islanders don't want to pay what teams are asking for some of the other forwards available and Gusev does clear, perhaps circling back wouldn't be the worst idea.
***We've launched a HockeyBuzz Islanders Twitter account! For anyone interested, you can follow @HB_Islanders for updates on articles, Islanders news, etc.***