The Carolina Hurricanes' signing of Montreal Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet on Saturday was a gift to the hockey world. The late-summer weeks are typically slow for hockey content, with the 2021 Women's World Championship the only relevant activity scheduled during that time this year.
Any offer sheet is noteworthy because they are uncommon and usually features a player of consequence. The optics of revenge for Montreal's offer-sheeting of Sebastian Aho in 2019 add a whole new dimension to the storyline. During what is expected to be the quietest period on the hockey calendar, the Hurricanes blindsided everyone with absolute chaos.
The move is a major win for neutral observers who are served with unexpected entertainment, but it's one that has significant implications for two Eastern Conference teams that, in differing ways, will have spotlights on them for the 2021-22 season. The Canadiens are coming off a run to the Stanley Cup Final. The Hurricanes are expected to be a top contender next season.
The fate of a 21-year-old former top prospect, as well as a first- and third-round pick, hangs in the balance. The Hurricanes took a massive risk by initiating this process and left the Habs in a vulnerable position with only a few days to choose between a rock and a hard place. It's a decision that will have significant consequences for the two teams both immediately and in the long term.
The Hurricanes' Big Risk
At least in concept, the Hurricanes' offer sheet for Kotkaniemi is perfectly executed. They found a young player left unsigned on a team with little wiggle room under the salary cap. He's a player who, while a good one, is not so integral to the Canadiens that general manager Marc Bergevin will be willing to move mountains to keep. They made an offer that the Habs might have a tough time justifying in spirit and an even more difficult time making work logistically.
In contrast to the Canadiens' offer sheet for Aho, which the Hurricanes matched without hesitation, in this example the Hurricanes are exploiting a situation where the other team may be out-leveraged.
But this particular deal for Kotkaniemi is a massive risk. He has had a roller-coaster career since the Canadiens drafted him third overall in 2018. He was good enough to make the NHL team as an 18-year-old in 2018-19 and played fairly well, then he suffered a sophomore slump severe enough for Montreal to demote him to the AHL.