HabsWorld.net -- 

For a long time, the offer sheet was a hockey unicorn, more fun for fans to speculate on than National Hockey League general managers to actually use.

But that changed last summer, with the first successful offer sheet since the Edmonton Oilers took Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. Late last August, the Carolina Hurricanes signed 21-year-old centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a $6.1M, one-year offer sheet that the Montreal Canadiens, after considerable deliberation, decided not to match.

On March 21, Kotkaniemi re-signed with the Hurricanes, inking an eight-year, $38,560,000 deal that carries an annual cap hit of $4.82M.

This summer, the skate might be on the other foot. It’s the Hurricanes’ turn to worry about valued RFAs attracting attention from avaricious NHL general managers.

Following the additions of Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty, Carolina has just $4M in cap space remaining with right wing/centre Martin Necas and defenceman Ethan Bear still to sign plus likely an extra depth forward.  Bear has arbitration rights and a pretty good idea of what he’ll be able to get after getting permission to speak to other teams before free agency started. We know it’s at least $2.4M since that’s what his qualifying offer was.

As a result of their recent moves, they’re just as open to the threat of a well-prepared offer sheet as the Canadiens were last summer. While it’s unlikely the Canadiens will put together an offer sheet for anyone this summer, especially with their own cap situation to take care of, Necas could be an offer sheet target for teams with cap money to spend.

A 23-year-old right-winger who was taken 12th overall in the 2017 entry draft, the 6’2”, 189-lb. Czech forward has been a consistent 40-point man over his three seasons with Carolina. However, as is the case with Kotkaniemi, the belief around the league is that he is capable of more. A key selling point on any offer sheet would be a promise to play him at centre, the role he has seen himself in since coming into the league.

Unfortunately for Necas, the Hurricanes have arguably the deepest group of centres in the league. Sebastian Aho is one of the league’s best pivots anchoring the top line, Kotkaniemi has been declared the second-line centre to replace Vincent Trocheck (who joined the Rangers), and Jordan Staal is as good a checking line centre as there is in the NHL.  Carolina was so deep at centre last season that Kotkaniemi spent a lot of time playing left wing on the fourth line and one of the league’s best rookies, Seth Jarvis, spent the playoffs on right wing rather than his preferred centre position.

To top everything off, another quality centre in his early twenties, Jack Drury, is waiting in the wings for his chance as well, after winning the 2021-22 Calder Cup with Carolina’s AHL farm team, the Chicago Wolves. The Harvard product, a second-round pick in 2018, had nine goals and 24 points in 18 playoff games after a fine rookie season where he collected 20 goals and 52 points in 68 games.

What kind of a trade could Montreal make for this player? One of the Habs’ good young defence prospects and a second-round pick might be enough to get a deal done. Necas would probably sign for about what Kotkaniemi got, but perhaps with less term. He’d fit in with the age of this young core and his ability to play down the middle would give them some extra depth in case Kirby Dach doesn’t pan out as planned. Of course, GM Kent Hughes would need to have a cap-clearing move in place to make a trade like this work as well.

While Montreal’s cap situation probably rules out the team making a headline-grabbing offer sheet like the one they were victimized by last summer, other general managers might see the same $6.1M deal that was offered to Kotkaniemi — with a first-round pick and a third-round pick going back to the Hurricanes if successful — as an effective way to get this player.

I imagine Necas would think long and hard about such an offer, just as Kotkaniemi did last August. But the chance to be an NHL centre rather than a right winger might be enough to tip the balance, all else being equal.

While Montreal getting Necas for a prospect and a draft pick would be a fair deal for both sides, I can’t help but think that many Canadiens fans would pass on the player just for the chance to watch Hurricanes’ fans sweat out an offer sheet for seven days sometime soon, just like they had to do last summer.

And even if they don’t get to see their team get a player it wants, watching the Carolina Hurricanes twist in the wind for a week would be a nice consolation prize.