In Montreal, plenty of fans believe the Habs ended up as the winner in the Jesperi Kotkaniemi drama. And maybe they are right.
The acquisition of center Christian Dvorak is a soft landing for a situation that was spiraling out of control. Dvorak is more accomplished than Kotkaniemi is at this point of their careers. And for this season at least, he will be less expensive than the $6.1 million the ‘Canes will pay Kotkaniemi this season.
But it seems to me that we should hold off on declaring a winner based on exit polling on this one.
It’s certainly possible that the Hurricanes could end up very happy with the results of this offer sheet.
Dvorak is 25 and we know who he is. He’s a steady, dependable, two-way center. Montreal will appreciate what they get from him, certainly more consistency than we saw in the young Kotkaniemi.
But Kotkaniemi is only 21. He was the third pick in the 2018 draft and he has the fourth-highest goal total (22) from that class. Some players such as Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov and Quinn Hughes, for example, have taken off from that draft class, but mostly we are still waiting to see what happens with this group.
I like this move for Carolina, even if there is risk involved. It’s certainly possible that the 6-foot-2 Kotkaniemi could develop into one of Carolina’s top players. The Hurricanes know this player well. They scouted him thoroughly the season they drafted Svechnikov. They liked his potential and weren’t discouraged by this season’s 20-point output. They tried to trade for him before going the offer sheet route.
They insist this move wasn’t retribution because the Canadiens gave an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho two years ago.
“It certainly was not revenge,” Waddell said Sunday. “We talked about this player, we know this player. (We used) the CBA as other teams have in the past to try to acquire a 21-year-old player. So to us, it was all about the player. We looked around the league and thought this made the most sense from where we are as a team.”
Maybe it wasn’t all about revenge, but it was undoubtedly a little bit about revenge. And that’s fine. My belief is first and foremost they wanted the player, and it was a bonus that this was a good marketing move and that it sent a message to other teams: If you try to poach our players we will go after yours.
The Hurricanes are a contending team. They wouldn’t have done this if they didn’t want Kotkaniemi on their roster.
Waddell reminded everyone that the Hurricanes are not the Canadiens. They need to make big splashes to excite their fan base. This was the NHL's first successful offer sheet play since 2007. The Hurricanes want fans to know they swing for the fences.
“The (press) release, that’s a marketing thing,” Waddell said. “We’re trying to continue to build our franchise here in Raleigh, trying to keep our fans engaged. Our social team gets huge marks from the NHL, and they had some fun with it.”
For the Hurricanes to be the big winner here the Hurricanes need for Kotkaniemi to have a breakthrough season in 2021-22. It would help as well if they could tie him up for a longer term for less than $6.1 million.
If they do that, Kotkaniemi is more than worth the first- and third-round picks they gave up as compensation.
“We know his skill level and what he brings to the table,” Waddell said. “We will probably start him on the left wing because we have Aho, (Vince) Trocheck and (Jordan) Staal down the middle. He will play with some very good players. “
The Canadiens bear some risk here as well, although the downside isn’t much to worry about. The Habs can’t really look at this as a Kotkaniemi for Dvorak trade. They may not make the playoffs this season and their Dvorak trade requires them to give up the better of their first-round pick or Carolina’s first rounder. Also, they got a third rounder in compensation and are giving Arizona a first and second rounder.
It’s also possible that both teams end up pleased with the primary players they received.
But even if that happens fans won’t see that way. There has to be a winner or loser in hockey. That’s just the way it works.