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

Canadiens' options if they don't match Kotkaniemi offer sheet
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[UPDATE: Montreal has declined to match. Kotkaniemi is now a member of the Hurricanes.]

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?

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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 2022 NHL Draft (and 2023 one) are hyped up as quite strong. As of this writing, the Canadiens have their customary seven draft picks, plus one extra 2022 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.

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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.