The Habs had until Saturday at 5:30 PM EST to decide Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s fate. They used every second possible before announcing that they have declined to match the offer, making him a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. The offer was for just over $6.1 million, meaning the Canadiens receive Carolina’s first and third-round picks in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft which is being hosted in Montreal. They now hold six picks in the first three rounds.
GM Marc Bergevin released the following short statement:
Carolina has used a tool available to them in the collective bargaining agreement and we accept that decision.
While there has been an expectation that the Canadiens would have a trade in place to find a replacement for Kotkaniemi, that isn’t the case (or at least it hasn’t been announced yet).
The 21-year-old leaves Montreal after three seasons following his third-overall selection back in 2018. Back at the time, the selection was viewed by many scouts as a reach although a strong showing late in the year had moved him up draft boards. Still, their lack of centre depth made the decision understandable; it’s worth noting that Nick Suzuki was still a member of the Golden Knights at the time.
Kotkaniemi had an impressive rookie season with 34 points in 79 games as the youngest player in the league but his sophomore campaign was one to forget with just eight points in 36 contests before being sent to Laval (where he was injured). However, a good showing in the bubble late in the summer had his stock back on the rise heading into last season.
Kotkaniemi saw a small uptick in ice time, logging nearly 15 minutes a game but it didn’t materialize into much production as he notched just five goals and 15 helpers in 56 games. His performance in the playoffs was better as he scored five times but he was also scratched at the beginning and the end.
That had Montreal reportedly pursuing a bridge contract with Kotkaniemi’s camp, understandable given the circumstances. But it’s certainly hard to fault Kotkaniemi for jumping at Carolina’s offer, one that probably more than doubled what was on the table with the Canadiens.
Now, Kotkaniemi is added to a Hurricanes depth chart that is fairly deep down the middle so it will be quite interesting to see where he slots in. It will also be interesting to see if there is a cheaper extension to follow in 2022 as has been speculated that will make the cost of this contract a little more palatable in the long term.
As for the Habs, they will have some work to do as following the departures of Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault (plus even Eric Staal who remains unsigned), their depth down the middle right now is Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling, and Cedric Paquette (who was a winger in Carolina last season).
Montreal’s offseason activity has shown that they want to stay in the playoff mix. If that’s going to happen, Bergevin has some work to do. They still have roughly $5 million or so in wiggle room with Shea Weber’s contract being LTIR-bound and that is going to need to be put to use in the coming days and weeks if they want to be in the playoff picture.