Call it revenge, pettiness — whatever you like. The Carolina Hurricanes fired back at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday by signing restricted free agent enter Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet, 25 months after the Habs did the same to Sebastian Aho.
And while the Hurricanes would certainly love to add the 21-year-old center who was the third overall pick behind Andrei Svechnikov in the 2018 NHL Draft, it’s clear this move was also about exacting revenge on Montreal GM Marc Bergevin and his cap-strapped club.
“Jesperi Kotkaniemi accepted our offer. He wants to come to Carolina,” said Hurricanes GM Don Waddell in a press release, one that was nearly identical to Bergevin’s statement about Aho two years ago. “He sees the core we’ve built here and he wants to be a part of that. We’re proud, but there’s still a waiting period. When you make an offer like that, we saw a vulnerable position. The offer, with the compensation and the core we have, we realized that it was the best chance we had to get the player.”
The one-year, $6,100,015 contract — which, according to CapFriendly.com, includes an extra $20 signing bonus that is undoubtedly a nod to Aho’s sweater number, along with a $15 on the end of the base of the deal for Kotkaniemi’s number in Montreal — also comes with compensatory draft picks for the Canadiens. If they chose not to match Carolina’s offer sheet, the Habs would receive the Hurricanes’ first- and third-round picks in next year’s draft. Carolina holds all seven of its draft choices in the 2022 draft, along with extra picks in the third (Chicago), sixth (Anaheim) and seventh (Columbus) rounds.
The Canadiens signed Aho to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet on July 1, 2019, and Carolina quickly announced its intention to match. Aho is entering the third year of the deal that pays him an average of 8,460,250 annually. He will be an unrestricted free agent when the deal expires following the 2023-24 campaign.
But for all focus on the front office rivalry aspect of the signing, Kotkaniemi also represents a need for Carolina. While the Hurricanes are deep down the middle with Aho, Vincent Trocheck and Jordan Staal, Trocheck is one year from unrestricted free agency and Staal two. Staal will also be 33 in two weeks.
The 6-foot-2, 184-pound Kotkaniemi has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career but has totaled just 22 goals and 62 points in 171 games. But he’s often been underutilized in Montreal and was even scratched for Games 4 and 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in exchange for the even less established Jake Evans. Kotkaniemi had five goals and three assists in 19 games during the Canadiens’ run to the Final.
Kotkaniemi had five goals and 20 assists in 56 games last season after managing just eight points in 36 games in his sophomore campaign. His rookie season in 2018-19 was certainly the best of his first three NHL seasons — he had 11 goals and 34 points in 79 games. For his career, he’s averaged under 14 minutes of ice time per game in Montreal.
His underlying numbers, however, have been very good. He had a 59.4% Corsi For last season, matching the entirety of his career, though he has taken nearly two-thirds of his zone starts in the offensive zone since entering the league.
Carolina has long had an affinity for Finnish players and has a large contingent led by Aho, Teuvo Teravainen — who works with the same agency as Kotkaniemi, Acme World Sports — and newly acquired goalie Antti Raanta. The Hurricanes have also drafted eight Finns the past five drafts.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Hurricanes tried to strike a deal with Montreal for the young center but negotiations didn’t get very far. Enter the offer sheet.
Hurricanes did try to trade for Kotkaniemi instead over the past several days but nothing that came close to making the Habs interested. So Dundon gets his offer sheet revenge.
Anyway, enjoy the fun everyone. https://t.co/kZRTedDaSx
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) August 28, 2021
Now Carolina will wait to see if the Canadiens will match. Montreal has seven days to decide if they want to pay Kotkaniemi that amount (and have it as the basis of his qualifying offer following the 2021-22 season) or accept the Hurricanes’ two draft picks.
If the Habs decide to retain Kotkaniemi, there will be some cap maneuvering necessary for a team that has some cushion due to long-term injuries to captain Shea Weber and Paul Byron but will still be tight against the NHL’s salary ceiling.
With Weber out for the season, and Byron out until the new year, the #Habs could place both players on off-season LTIR and build a roster up to as much as $92,757,143 if needed.
However, once Byron returns they would need to drop below $89,357,143 in order to activate him. https://t.co/tIPEqhljbS
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) August 28, 2021
The Hurricanes — who signed Svechnikov to an eight-year, $62 million contract extension earlier in the week — have more than $4.5 million in cap space currently available but have a few options to get under the $81.5 million threshold if they land Kotkaniemi.