Hockey

Kotkaniemi Offer Sheet Success

Offer Sheet
Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Rejoice, friends! We have a successful offer sheet to talk about! The Carolina Hurricanes signed former Montreal Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a 1 year, $6.1 million offer sheet that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin chose not to match. The contract comes with a $20 signing bonus, one of my favorite parts of the contract (we’ll get into that later). Let’s take a closer look at what this means for the two teams involved, as well as the league in general.

Context

This is actually the first successful offer sheet since 2007. That was the year the Edmonton Oilers signed then Anaheim Ducks forward Dustin Penner to a five year, $21.25 million offer sheet. Then-GM of the Ducks Brian Burke chose not to match, so Penner became an Oiler. Penner went on to have a solid NHL career, even playing another season in Anaheim later in his career.

This is not, however, the first offer sheet in recent memory. In fact, this is the second offer sheet involving these two teams in the past 3 years. Back in the summer of 2019, the Montreal Canadiens tendered an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes star center Sebastian Aho worth $42.27 million over 5 years. For those as bad at math as this column writer, that’s an AAV of $8.454 million. 

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin was quoted saying “He’s a player that wants to come to Montreal. It was an offer that he did not have to accept, so for him it’s an offer that for the value he sees in himself, the group of young players coming up in our organization, he wants to be a part of that.” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell was nonplussed, matching the offer and saying “I know my summer just got better, because I’m not going to be negotiating a contract all summer. We make a decision and move on.”

Fast- forward to this year. The Hurricanes extend the one-year offer sheet to Kotkaniemi, and lay the snark on thick. The $20 signing bonus is call-back to the Aho offer sheet, whose jersey number is 20. Just in case it wasn’t clear what was on Waddell’s mind when he made the offer, he parotted back most of Bergevin’s comments when asked about the Kotkaniemi offer sheet.

What it Means For Carolina

The Hurricanes add a forward who is young and talented (he just turned 21 on July 6), but has been underwhelming the past couple seasons. Since an impressive rookie year in 2018 that saw him score 34 points in 79 games (good numbers for an 18 year old), Kotkaniemi has only managed 28 points in his next 92 games played. There are many reasons suggested for this drop-off in production. Some say he was rushed into the league as a slight teenager (6’2” but only 190lbs as a rookie), and the league was able to figure him out. Others say he was never able to develop chemistry with consistent linemates. In 2021 alone, he played with 18 different linemates! It’s pretty hard to develop a rhythm when you’re trying to figure out how to play with different players that often, especially as a rookie.

Despite this, Kotkaniemi comes into a good situation in Carolina. He can play sheltered minutes with skilled veteran players. Most depth chart projections have him playing on the third line, as a winger to Jordan Staal. That is an excellent place to end up as a young player with the talent Kotkaniemi has. Being on the third line also removes the pressure of having to be a primary points producer. He can now relax and play his game, while learning from a good veteran like Staal. There will be some pressure still, having that big salary to live up to. The hoopla that comes along with it won’t help either. But Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour is a master at getting the most out of his players.

What it Means for Montreal

The Canadiens took all 7 days they were allotted to decide whether to match or not. At the end of the day, Montreal just didn’t have to cap space to match the offer sheet. So Bergevin took the first and third round picks that are compensation for losing a player via offer sheet. He then went ahead and flipped a 2022 conditional first round pick and a 2024 second round pick to Arizona for center Christian Dvorak.

The Canadiens have been dissed pretty hard throughout this process. The Carolina Hurricanes and their social media accounts have trolled Montreal at every opportunity. Beyond that, they lost a player who they projected to be part of their long-term core. Kotkaniemi may have underwhelmed the past couple years, but he is still young. There is plenty of room for improvement.

Instead, they move on the Christian Dvorak. He is a few years older, but definitely more proven. He consistently scores close to 40 points every year, which is what a team wants out of their second line center. Honestly, that may be all the Canadiens need. And he comes in at about $1.5 million cheaper than what Kotkaniemi signed for. Though Dvorak has played 5 seasons in the NHL, he is still relatively young at 25. In essence, Montreal gave up a prospect with high potential and ended up with a similar player. But one with proven production. 

 Conclusion

Ultimately, we don’t know who came out on top of this. Chances are, we won’t know for another year, possibly more. Offer sheets are fun. That we do know. They provide drama and intrigue, something that this league sorely lacks. Having an offer sheet happen breaks up the slow news cycle of the summer. It gives hockey fans something to talk about at a time where hockey news is scarce at best. Better yet, they create compelling storylines that affect the league for years to come. Will Kotkaniemi perform up to his contract? Or will the Canadiens go on another Cup run, and Dvorak is a key piece? Time will tell, but it has been a fun ride.

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