They were not happy, and I mean really not happy when, in the summer of 2019, the Montreal Canadiens signed Restricted Free Agent Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer-sheet worth over $42 million. The Hurricanes moaned and groaned for a week before finally matching the Canadiens offer, trying their best to minimize the trouble it had given them. You see, Montreal had information that owner Tom Dundon, while very well off, had his money tied up and they structured the contract in a way that most of the contract was going to be paid in signing bonus. The fact that the Canes don’t pay signing bonuses as a policy, Marc Bergevin, with the acceptance of Geoff Molson who pays the bills, structured the offer in a way that over $21 million of the contract would have to get paid within about a year’s time.
This irked the Canes so much that they have been planning their revenge ever since. It took two years but at first chance, they had their retribution all lined-up. As the Canadiens insisted on a bridge deal for young center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Canes snuck in and offered the young Finn $6.1 million on a one-year deal. Unlike Aho who was already a 30-goals scorer and averaged a point per game, Kotkaniemi’s best season was a mere 11 goals and 34 points in his rookie season. That offer not only surprised the Canadiens (not because they signed him, but because of the amount), it also shocked the hockey world. GMs around the league were NOT impressed as the Canes had just raised the bar for players coming out of their Entry Level Contracts (ELC). And they did it in a year where the salary cap was stagnant due to flat revenues because of the COVID pandemic.
Unlike the Hurricanes’ management and ownership, the Canadiens stayed mute about the offer-sheet. Not a single comment for an entire week and everyone was left wondering if they would match or not. It was even said that Dundon’s calls to Molson were not returned. Most were convinced that the Canes did this thinking that Montreal wouldn’t risk losing Kotkaniemi and would match. They just wanted to throw a wrench in the Canadiens’ plans and exerce revenge and that. No one believed them when claiming being happy when the Habs announced that they wouldn’t be matching the offer. No one believed them when they said it wasn’t revenge either… as it clearly was.
Great season but…
Thankfully for them, the Canes as a team are doing very well. At the time of writing this, they sit atop the Metropolitan Division and are amongst the top teams in the NHL. They are carried offensively by Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, Tony DeAngelo, Vincent Trochek and Teuvo Teravainen who all have over 0.80 points per game played. Only four Hurricanes have a negative plus/minus: Brendan Smith, Josh Leivo, Brett Pesce and… Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
The former Canadiens’ third overall pick is not having a good season at all. His three points (2G-1A) in 15 games so far have him on a pace for a career low 16 points and he’s playing wing with Carolina, instead of his natural position at center. He averages 12:10 minutes of ice time per game, which is almost a minute less than what he had in his rookie season in Montreal. To think that on the Habs, prior to signing his offer-sheet, he was pencilled in as the team’s second line center with the departure of Phillip Danault. It goes to show that taking the quick money for a single season isn’t always the smartest thing to do.
Trouble brewing in Carolina
At the end of the season, Martin Necas is scheduled to become a UFA. Necas is already more productive than KK, getting 41 points in 53 games last year (0.77 Pts/GP) and he has nine points in 13 games so far (0.69 Pts/GP). As his own team has set the bar with Kotkaniemi at $6.1 million for much less production, we can expect to see either the Canes fork out a lot of money to sign him, or for tough negotiations at the very least… with the risk of a team (Montreal included) sneaking in with an offer-sheet.
While the Canes could let team captain Jordan Stall and Vincent Trochek (13 points in 15 GP this season) walk as Unrestricted Free Agents, they still need to re-sign Kotkaniemi. They also only have three of their current defensemen under contract for next season. And according to Capfriendly, the Canes already have over $57 million committed in salary to only 12 players next season, with the previously-mentioned players remaining to be signed.
So team GM Don Waddell will have his work cut out for himself. All that because of the ego of his owner and boss who wanted to seek revenge. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot… The team will be in trouble, Kotkaniemi isn’t happy. All of this could have been avoided had the young man thought about looking further than his own nose. He who laughs last, laughs best… and it doesn’t look like it will be KK and the Canes.