During the World Championship in Slovakia Igor Eronko and Alexey Shevchenko of Sport-Express talked to former Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Nikita Gusev about the couple of weeks he spent in Vegas this spring and also asked him what happened before his trade to the Golden Knights in 2017. We translated this part of interview for you.
S-E: Many people were saying that it would be better if you join Nikita Kucherov in the NHL
Gusev: We’re talking very often with Nikita. I’m not sure how to explain it to you. They have a good team in Tampa. At some point they traded me away, because I was only an AHL player according to them and they didn’t want to see me there. And that I only deserve an AHL contract. Probably there was a reason. So it’s not like I’m trying to get back (to Tampa).
S-E: When did they tell you that?
Gusev: Before I was traded to Vegas in June 2017. I think it was obvious.
S-E: Who told you that? Was it Steve Yzerman?
Gusev: Honestly, I never met Yzerman. It’s not important who did this. I had meetings with some people from Tampa. They told me that there are a lot of young players on two-way deals in the organization and I’m only an AHL player. It was already clear and simple for me.
S-E: They gave up on you in CSKA before and now in Tampa. Did you have a feeling that this already happened to you?
Gusev: No, I was okay with that. If they don’t want to see me, it’s just how they see things. It was clear that I’m not going to the AHL. So I’m glad that I was traded. Yes, the Golden Knights style of hockey more relies on skating and speed but it’s better than playing in the AHL at this moment.
S-E: There were rumours that you had some disagreements with Kucherov
Gusev: No, it’s not possible.
Additional context via loserpoints:
These are some interesting words from Gusev. What I take from this is that the Lightning wanted him start his time with the organization in the AHL. I doubt the team saw his ceiling as an AHL player but it sounds like they wanted him to follow a longer development path rather than starting immediately in the NHL.
It also sounds like Gusev wasn’t open to that, which is reasonable considering his stature in the KHL and his performance internationally. He’s played well enough to believe that he should be able to transition cleanly to the NHL.
In some ways, this could be viewed as poor management by the Lightning. Gusev has the potential to be an impact player and losing him because the team took a hard line on the details of his development path seems a little shortsighted. In retrospect, the decision to move his rights to protect Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin in the expansion draft also doesn’t look great. Although at the time, it seemed like a less obvious decision.
Much the way seeing Jonathan Marchessault thrive in Vegas brings questions of what might have been, Gusev could be much of the same. Good teams losing good players is inevitable. The Lightning’s cap situation is a nightmare even without Marchessault and Gusev. It seems almost impossible to add two more top six wingers to this roster.
Ultimately, while this isn’t a flattering look for the Lightning, it also isn’t a disaster. Even if Gusev comes over and reaches his ceiling, the Lightning will be able to look back and reasonably defend their decision making. But in the future, maybe they’ll consider a little more flexibility in these types of situations and prefer to err on the side of keeping talent in the organization rather than letting players walk over small details.