It turns out that Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be getting a lot more money than most expected next season. We just don’t know whether it will be from the Habs or from Carolina, who announced Saturday that they’ve signed him to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet. (Technically, the deal is worth $6,100,015 with a $20 signing bonus which happens to be Sebastian Aho’s sweater number.)
As you can probably guess from that signing bonus, this would widely be seen as revenge for Montreal’s offer sheet on Aho two years ago, a five-year, $42.295 million deal that was quickly matched. The wording of the press release is a dead giveaway with GM Don Waddell’s quote almost matching Marc Bergevin’s from two years ago.
Unlike Aho’s offer, Kotkaniemi’s is different in that it’s only for one year which means he’ll be owed a qualifying offer of $6,099,995 (the signing bonus is deducted from the calculation) and will be arbitration-eligible next summer.
It’s definitely an over-market offer from Carolina based on the season Kotkaniemi had, one that saw him notch just five goals and 15 assists in 56 games while chipping in with eight points in 19 playoff contests. But that’s the whole point of the offer sheet as it really puts the Habs in a financial bind.
If they match, they will effectively go over their LTIR cap space as Paul Byron will come back midseason and at that point, a move will need to be made to get back into compliance. It also will drastically affect their salary structure moving forward which is notable with Nick Suzuki needing a new contract next summer and Cole Caufield the year after that. It’s safe to say that Bergevin wasn’t budgeting $6.1 million for Kotkaniemi’s minimum price tag.
If they opt not to match, Montreal would receive Carolina’s unprotected first and third-round picks. However, that would leave a pretty big hole down the middle with Phillip Danault leaving for the Kings in free agency and certainly wouldn’t represent a good return on the third-overall pick that they used on him in 2018. (The player who went before Kotkaniemi in that draft was Andrei Svechnikov who just signed an eight-year deal with Carolina earlier this week, setting them up with the money to make this move.)
It’s worth noting that if the Canadiens match this deal, it comes with a one-year trade restriction so the Habs wouldn’t be able to move him during the season or even next summer. That timing is notable as arbitration hearings will have wrapped up by the time the trade restriction is lifted and would effectively lock Kotkaniemi in at that price tag for a second year with Montreal. Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reports that Carolina did try to trade for Kotkaniemi over the last few days but clearly, they didn’t make an offer that made Bergevin want to move him so they’ve gone this route instead.
This is a move that will definitely do some damage to the Canadiens, something that couldn’t have been said on Aho’s deal, one that may have done Carolina a favour aside from the five-year term. Bergevin has up to a week to decide whether or not to match and chances are that he’ll use at least a few days to examine his options by seeing if there are any viable trade options out there to replace Kotkaniemi if he doesn’t want to pay that high of a price tag to the 21-year-old next season. Either way, the Habs are in a tough spot.