Canadiens’ options if they don’t match Kotkaniemi offer sheet

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When it comes to the Hurricanes trolling the Canadiens with that shocking Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet, there’s a lot to unpack.

It would have been entertaining and complicated any time during the offseason, but to happen in late August, aka the dog days of the hockey offseason? Gold, Jerry. Gold.

Granted, it’s not such a delight for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.

Recently, PHT’s Adam Gretz argued that the Canadiens shouldn’t match the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, instead taking the picks while the Hurricanes would be on the hook for that $6.1 million (plus some numerology trolling) for the 2021-22 season. I, too, subscribe to that argument.

Assuming the Canadiens don’t match that Kotkaniemi offer sheet, what should Bergevin & Co. do next, though? That’s a difficult question to answer, and it sure doesn’t feel like a situation the Canadiens were structured for.

First, let’s try to step into Bergevin’s (shiny, no-doubt-expensive) shoes and try to ponder some of the factors on his mind. Then we’ll consider different avenues the Habs can take.

Unfortunately, just about every road is bumpy.

Kotkaniemi offer sheet could make Bergevin, Canadiens look foolish in many ways

For us on the outside, it’s easy to argue that the Canadiens should walk away from that Kotkaniemi offer sheet. He’s not a $6.1M player right now, and with the way qualifying offers work, the Canadiens would be stuck in difficult contract situations down the line, too.

But the situation — and finding solutions — gets more complicated when you realize how much egg is on Bergevin’s face.

After all, he is the one who absorbed criticisms about arguably reaching when the Canadiens selected Kotkaniemi third overall in 2018. The reactions created a minor celebrity or two.

Truly, the jury’s still out on that selection. On one hand, Kotkaniemi made an immediate jump after being drafted, and showed signs of brilliance. There have been stumbles, though, from AHL demotions to being healthy scratched as recently as the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

From a perception standpoint, just think of all of the ways Bergevin could look bad:

  • If the Canadiens don’t match, there’s an element of admitting that Kotkaniemi wasn’t worth that third pick.

  • If they don’t match, and Kotkaniemi flourishes, then they’ll look bad in a number of ways. Both letting him go, and maybe holding him back?

  • Either way, there’s a gnawing question: “Should Bergevin have seen this coming?”

The Hurricanes laid it on pretty thick with the wording of the press release following the Kotkaniemi offer sheet. This wasn’t just about landing a young talent; there was some (gloriously entertaining) pettiness involved. Shouldn’t Bergevin have expected some retaliation from that largely ineffectual Sebastian Aho offer sheet?

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It’s not like the Hurricanes pounced with the Kotkaniemi offer sheet during the first day of 2021 NHL Free Agency.

[2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Instead, it happened on Aug. 28, deep into the offseason. You could absolutely argue that Bergevin was trying to squeeze Kotkaniemi for every last dollar, and instead got burned. (The Habs could have signed Kotkaniemi to an extension as early as last summer, too.)

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Frankly, the Canadiens were already on shaky ground at center — even if Kotkaniemi was in the picture.

Essentially, they were asking Kotkaniemi to cement himself as a No. 2 center, and for Jake Evans to replace much of what they lost in Phillip Danault‘s exit. To an extent, they were also assuming that Nick Suzuki wouldn’t stumble often as a first-line center.

That was already asking a lot, and now they might get backed into a corner.

Overall, there’s a lot at stake here. Yet, while it’s tempting to just go with cold, hard, facts, it’s also crucial to realize the egos involved. Bergevin might need to swallow some pride to make lemonade from these lemons.

One option: trading for someone like Dvorak

If the Canadiens don’t match the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, they’d receive one first-rounder and one third-round pick as compensation.

Theoretically, they could use one or both of those picks (plus others) to trade for a replacement. During the weekend, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman floated Coyotes center Christian Dvorak as an option. That possibility is gaining steam.

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Is a Dvorak trade the right move for the Canadiens if they walk away from that Kotkaniemi offer sheet? It depends upon who you ask, what the asking price would be, and how ambitious Montreal truly is.

On one hand, Dvorak isn’t going to light the world on fire. For a Canadiens team some joke is a parade of middle-six forwards, this might feel like more of the same.

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But Dvorak, 25, can thrive in the right circumstances. At a $4.45M cap hit for the next four seasons, Dvorak also brings value, even if you feel like yawning about it.

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If Dvorak didn’t cost a ton in a trade, he could be a decent option for the Canadiens. Would he move the needle enough to warrant a package including a first-rounder, however? Maybe there’s a better way …

Is tanking an option? Or what if it happens anyway?

Considering that he’s likely on the hot seat, Marc Bergevin probably wouldn’t embrace the Canadiens “tanking.”

Yet, even with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens were no guarantee to make the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Christian Dvorak wouldn’t make them a no-brainer, either. The Atlantic Division could be brutal, and the Metro might gobble up a wild-card spot, or both.

On one hand, the Canadiens’ free-agent moves didn’t scream rebuild/retool. They loaded up on veterans, including giving considerable term to Mike Hoffman, David Savard, and retaining Joel Armia. The plan clearly wasn’t to take a step back — at least not on purpose.

But there could be some potential silver linings.

[Montreal to lean on Suzuki, Caufield]

If the Canadiens simply kept the first and third-rounders (or, at least the first-rounder), they’d suddenly have a pretty nice cache of picks. That’s no small thing, being that the 2021 NHL Draft (and 2022 one) are hyped up as quite strong. As of this writing, the Canadiens have their customary seven draft picks, plus one extra 2021 NHL Draft pick in the third, fourth, and seventh round.

Add some premium picks to Nick Suzuki (22) and Cole Caufield (20), and the Canadiens’ future looks a lot brighter. That’s an even sunnier outlook if, deep down, they had doubts about Kotkaniemi’s ceiling either way.

Whatever happens, the Canadiens … uh, might want to be proactive about contract solutions for Caufield (two years left) and Suzuki (entering a contract year). Just saying.

Few easy answers for the Habs

Over nearly a decade as Canadiens GM, Marc Bergevin’s shifted perceptions multiple times. He’s won trades, such as shipping out Alex Galchenyuk, that once drew mockery. (The P.K. SubbanShea Weber trade even looks more neutral.)

He’s also surprised us many times. Perhaps that’s what burns the most here: this time, someone else pranked him.

Maybe Bergevin and the Canadiens have another trick up their sleeves? Perhaps they’ll find a happy medium; could Tyler Bozak hold the fort at a cheaper price? Might Jonathan Drouin rebound and even survive at center?

There are any number of ways that this could play out. Don’t dismiss Bergevin’s chances of slipping out of this snare. You know, like Bergevin seemingly downplaying the threat of, say, a Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canadiens’ options if they don’t match Kotkaniemi offer sheet originally appeared on NBCSports.com