The Carolina Hurricanes made some news over the weekend when they offer sheeted Montreal Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a one-year, $6.1 million dollar deal. This also included a $20 signing bonus. While not only was this revenge for offer sheeting Sebastian Aho back in 2019, this was a good hockey move because the offer sheet is rarely used. Plus it ignites a rivalry between two teams where there is not much hatred. In addition to all of that, there was comedy behind it as the Hurricanes released the same exact quotes the Canadiens did with Aho offer sheet.
But there is a difference between the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet and the Sebastian Aho offer sheet. It was a no-brainer for the Hurricanes to match the Aho offer sheet. One it saved the Hurricanes a negotiation headache with the player, but two the deal was actually really good for the player and team. Recall Aho signed a five-year $42.27 million contract with an $8.454 million AAV. And clearly, Aho is the best player on the team. He could have gotten more, but this was the perfect number for team and player. With Kotkaniemi offer sheet. This is a little more complex and in Montreal’s case, they should weigh their options but lean towards letting the player go.
Best For Canadiens To Move On From Jesperi Kotkaniemi
The Montreal Canadiens selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi 3rd overall in the 2018 NHL Draft and there were high hopes for him. During his tenure with the Canadiens, Kotkaniemi has played in 171 career regular-season games recording 62 points (22 goals and 40 assists). This includes recording 20 points (five goals and 15 assists) in 56 games this past season. In addition, 12 points (nine goals and three assists) in 29 playoff games. However, during his tenure in Montreal, Kotkaniemi has fallen in and out of favour with the coaching staff that has been there. Fans were upset when he was scratched during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. The team opted for a faster lineup which saw the return of Jake Evans. Despite Kotkaniemi having eight points in 19 playoff games.
No one will disagree they rushed the 18-year old during his first season despite him recording 34 points (11 goals and 23 assists). But he has struggled over the past two seasons especially out of the gate. No-fault of his own, as the team did not put him in a situation to succeed. However, being taken that high means the player has the ability to carry a line. Not to mention the expectations in a city, where winning means everything. Kotkaniemi has gotten off to slow starts throughout the past two seasons and there will be pressure on him this year with the departure of Phillip Danault. Not to mention the play of Nick Suzuki has really put pressure on Kotkaniemi to perform.
This has put general manager Marc Bergevin in a bind. Lose a player that has yet to develop into his prime for first and third-round picks in the 2022 NHL Draft or sign a player to an overinflated contract. Even if the Hurricanes were trying to trade for him as Elliotte Friedman reports. The choice is simple for Bergevin do not match the offer sheet.
It Makes Too Much Sense
The Montreal Canadiens are in a pickle this upcoming season. With Shea Weber‘s career likely done, the Canadiens have money to play with as he will be on LTIR. In addition to Weber, Paul Byron will be on LTIR to start the season. But Byron will have to come back. If the Canadiens were to match the offer sheet of $6.1 million dollars, they would have to move out a contract once Byron came back to fit the money in. Plus, the Canadiens could not move Kotkaniemi for a full year. That puts them in a jam, especially if he gets off to another slow start. Not only that, but his next contract will have to start at $6.1 million. And they are overpaying for a player that has been inconsistent since his rookie season. And there is no way they could justify another $6 million investment if the player plays poorly.
If after seven days, the Canadiens do not match the offer, they would receive a first and third-round draft pick they could use for trade capital. That is very lucrative especially for a team like Montreal. So if the team decides to move from Kotkaniemi, which they should, then where do they go from here?
Options Moving Forward
Well, the Canadiens could use the picks they received from Carolina and go after a player like Christian Dvorak from Arizona. Dvorak has a reasonable salary cap hit at $4.45-million through 2024-25. Plus he is a physical two-way centre, something the Canadiens need. Dvorak put up 31 points (17 goals and 14 assists) in 56 games last season. So he is already more productive than Kotkaniemi. Not to mention he is 25 years old. With the loss of Danault, Dvorak would be the perfect replacement. Especially with Suzuki right behind him. Those picks could be the perfect start to trade framework to get that player to Montreal.
Now if the Canadiens can’t work out a trade with Arizona, maybe they revisit Jack Eichel, but Kotkaniemi would have been part of that trade, plus Buffalo is not going to want to trade him within the division. Not to mention, Montreal does not really have the prospects Buffalo is looking for. So they might have to look internally. Jack Evans is not a top-six forward but could be. Cedric Paquette is more of a bottom-six forward. Even though Mike Hoffman is listed as a centre, he is better on the wing. Could it be a guy like Ryan Peohling’s time to shine in Montreal? That is a player that could replace Kotkanimei put in the right situation.
One thing is for certain, the Canadiens have a tough decision to make. But it might not be that tough if you break everything down. It is easier to find another Jesperi Kotkaniemi than it is to overpay for a player you think may be great one day.