2021 NHL Free Agency

Free agent moves highlight Kraken’s mixed present, future outlook

Free agent moves highlight Kraken's mixed present, future outlook
Christopher Mast/NHLI Images via Getty Images

Despite what the Golden Knights maybe tricked them into believing, it was never going to be “easy” for the Seattle Kraken. Really, it shouldn’t be annoying when they operate like most other NHL teams — meaning, often with a lack of imagination and innovation. But it is.

Look, the Seattle Kraken team-building strategy us especially nerdy types had in our heads may never have been truly realistic. And, considering a wonderful 2022 NHL Draft haul highlightedbut not limited to — Shane Wright, the Kraken might just pull off the unlikely. Maybe they really can enjoy competitive teams today, and still build up the sort of prospect pool that will reach greater heights tomorrow.

Still, it feels like the Kraken could’ve been even bolder with a short-term pain, long-term gain strategy.

At the moment, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Kraken are spending a lot of money for a team that mainly just looks … OK. That might sound nice, but it could be a lot less desirable if they’ve doomed themselves to puck purgatory. They could very well be too good for a 2023 NHL Draft that is getting hype for being tide-turning, and they may also not be good enough to matter. (Thus, they might not even make the playoffs.)

That could be about as underwhelming as a Pirates sequel that takes place in space because everyone truly ran out of ideas.

Kraken continue growing tradition of mixed-bag free agent moves

Last offseason, it was already a little frustrating that the Kraken passed on opportunities to weaponize salary cap space at the expansion draft. Trades that happened just after the expansion draft showed there was some runway for such tinkering, even if GMs “learned some lessons.”

(Let’s be honest: every year, free agency casts serious doubts over how much GMs “learn.”)

Most prominently, the Kraken added Andre Burakovsky (27 years old, $5.5 million cap hit through 2026-27). In a vacuum, that deal made some sense. Most promisingly, Burakovsky adds an element of offensive dynamism that the Kraken sorely lack.

Yet, even that Burakovsky contract feels less appealing when you ponder the larger state of the Kraken. Ask yourself: they were an Andre Burakovsky away from … what, exactly?

It’s certainly not the worst contract. As plausible as it is that Burakovsky may look worse without superstar Avalanche teammates, he may also really light it up as a go-to option. But it still looks like the sort of contract you sign when you’re knocking on the door for a Stanley Cup, not maybe climbing into the playoff bubble.

So far, the other Kraken free agent moves inspire reactions between “meh” and “why are you actively lighting money on fire?”

  • In a baffling move, they signed Justin Schultz, 32, to a two-year deal with a $3.2 million cap hit.
  • Yes, it’s noteworthy that Chris Driedger is injured. Spending $2M on Martin Jones still feels odd.

Pile those deals on some rather uninspiring contracts already on the Kraken books.

Is a bloated “middle class” the right way to go?

Jaden Schwartz is a nice player. He’s also 30, deals with injury issues, and costs $5.5M for four more seasons. Jordan Eberle’s 32, and costs that much for two seasons. Yanni Gourde, 31, is another pretty good forward at $5.167M through 2024-25.

Burakovsky and Jared McCann are nice players, and at least they’re in their prime (Burakovsky’s 27, McCann is 26). Alexander Wennberg remains a less desirable expenditure, as it sure feels like you could replicate the 27-year-old’s production for the less than his $4.5M cap hit (through 2023-24).

Ponder the group of Schwartz, Gourde, Eberle, Burakovsky, McCann, and Wennberg. Not bad, but not exactly keeping goalies and defensive-minded coaches up at night, either? It doesn’t seem like the most exciting way to invest more than $31M in salary cap space, which lurks over $35M when you add Joonas Donskoi. (Then add the polarizing-because-of-price expansion draft snag of Brandon Tanev, 30, and $3.5M for three more seasons.)

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Unfortunately, the spending doesn’t look that different on defense and in net, either.

Scroll up and down the Kraken’s roster and ask yourself: how many of those contracts would you really want?

Maybe the Kraken would cringe at the idea of trying to snag futures for problem contracts such as that of James van Riemsdyk, Blue Jackets such as Jakub Voracek/Gustav Nyquist, or even Milan Lucic. It’s unclear if those players (aside from Lucic) would be that out of place on an already-disheveled looking roster.

You may say that Kraken structure looks like a sea beast, or a creaky boat quite vulnerable to the challenging tides of an NHL season. (Or … sea beast.)

Kraken could still figure this out, though

On the same day that the Devils leaned a bit too gleefully into blaming their goalies, it’s fair to confront elephant in the room. Yes, the Kraken’s goaltending dragged their overall outlook down in 2020-21.

By Hockey Viz’s count, Grubauer, Driedger, and the Kraken goaltending crew as a whole allowed about 31 goals more than expected.

The Kraken’s (not-totally-outrageous) hope is that, while Philipp Grubauer may not be Vezina finalist material every year, he may not also be the opposite. (Too soon to say “Martin Jones late in his Sharks days”-level?)

Last season, the Kraken played like a team that would be a black hole for offense for both teams. With weak finishing on their side and that really bad goaltending, the Kraken instead were a black hole for Seattle fans hoping to see a good hockey team right away.

If you get more saves, play strong defense, and sprinkle in some goals from Burakovsky/others, maybe that’s a decent team. Perhaps even a playoff factor.

Building toward a promising harvest

The real thing to be most excited about is the future, though.

Shane Wright and Matty Beniers both project as heady two-way centers. The team already has some quirky prospects to get (maybe too) excited about, such as the impeccably-named Jagger Firkus.

They also have the fuel to deepen that prospect base even more. Right now, the Kraken have their full array of seven 2023 NHL Draft picks along with two extra second-rounders, one extra third, two additional fourths, and an extra sixth. There are some extras for the 2024 NHL Draft already, too.

For the best chance to thrive, the Kraken probably should’ve geared up for a subtle or even blatant tank (maybe debate Fail Hard for Bedard vs. other rhyme schemes). Along with that, it would’ve been nice to aim for the sort of creative trades that could make the Coyotes interesting over time.

(On a similar note: it’s fair to ask if the Kraken should be cautious about either preserving or burning Shane Wright’s entry-level contract, as other high picks have sometimes struggled to justify immediate jumps.)

[There’s some star power in their ownership group]

As is, the Kraken are at least showing potential new fans that they’re going to take some shots. With almost $10M remaining in salary cap space, the Kraken could conceivably do even more.

That may not be the optimal route, but the Kraken are doing things their way. Perhaps that way will begin to look more promising starting in 2022-23?

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    Revisiting the Seth Jones trade as Blackhawks visit Blue Jackets

    jones blackhawks blue jackets
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If you are a Chicago Blackhawks fan the most frustrating part about the team’s 12-18-5 record is that the front office actually tried to build a competitive team this offseason. This is not the result of a summer of subtraction, or significant free agent departures, or a complete teardown to kickstart a rebuild. This is the result of real effort. They tried to be good, and they seemed to think they would be.

    Along with getting captain and No. 1 center Jonathan Toews back following last season’s absence, the Blackhawks went out and spent major money this offseason. They acquired a top goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. They added Tyler Johnson from Tampa Bay. Then they made the boldest move of them all by trading Adam Boqvist and a package of draft picks to the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones, and then immediately signed him to a stunning eight-year, $76 million contract.

    You do not make moves like that if you do not intend to win, and win this season.

    Chicago is making its first visit to Columbus since the trade on Tuesday night so it is worth looking back at how this trade has worked out so far for both teams.

    It is also worth noting that Jones will not be in the lineup due to a positive COVID-19 test.

    The trade

    To Chicago: Seth Jones, 2021 first-round pick (No. 32 overall), 2022 sixth-round pick
    To Columbus: Adam Boqvist, 2021 first-round pick (No. 12 overall), 2021 second-round pick, conditional 2022 first-round pick

    Columbus ended up moving up 20 spots in the 2021 first round (drafting Cole Sillinger), and picked up two additional picks along with the swap of defenders. The condition on the 2022 pick is that if it is is in the top two it will become a 2023 first-rounder.

    Seth Jones and the Blackhawks

    It became obvious the Blue Jackets were going to trade Jones when it was made known he had no interest in signing a long-term deal. We just did not know where he was going to end up and what he was going to sign for. It turned out to be Chicago, and for Jones a huge win personally given the contract.

    The big question with Jones was whether or not his last two years in Columbus (where his overall play had significantly regressed) were a concerning sign for what was ahead, or if he simply needed a fresh start on a new team with new surroundings. The Blackhawks obviously felt it was the second option given the contract they gave him. Keep in mind, that contract does not actually start until next season. He is playing this season on his old deal that carries a $5.4 million cap hit.

    It would be fair to say that the early results have been mixed.

    On one hand, Jones’ overall offensive performance has bounced back from where it was the past two seasons and he is actually on pace for close to 60 points over an 82-game season thanks in part to some big numbers on the power play. That is good. But that is also only part of the equation, as there was always the matter of 5-on-5 play and defensive impacts to worry about.

    Statistically speaking, Jones’ defensive impacts have been a little better in terms of suppressing shot attempts, chances, and expected goals than they were in previous seasons. His offensive impacts at even-strength have been pretty similar to recent seasons but still a significant drop from his peak years.

    Here are his year-by-year numbers via Natural Stat Trick:

    In other words: Maybe not as bad as critics of the trade and contract expected, but not exactly a game-changer, either. Still probably not ideal given the contract and the price paid to acquire him.

    Speaking of that price paid to acquire him.

    Early returns make Columbus look like big winner in trade

    All of this brings us to the Columbus side of this deal, where it probably would have been impossible for the Blue Jackets to do better than they did.

    Let’s start with Boqvist, the NHL player acquired in the deal.

    After showing some promising signs in Chicago in his first couple of years, Boqvist was going to get a real opportunity to play a major role with the Blue Jackets, and so far he has excelled when he has been in the lineup. He has been limited to just 23 games this season but has already scored seven goals and tallied 14 total points in those games, while posting outstanding underlying numbers and being one of the Blue Jackets’ top overall blue liners. He has been fantastic in the role has been utilized in.

    Given the age and contract difference that alone is a victory for the Blue Jackets. But that was not the only aspect of the deal.

    They also moved up 20 spots in the draft, sending the first-round pick they acquired from Tampa Bay (David Savard trade) to Chicago in exchange for the No. 12 overall pick. The Blue Jackets used that pick to select center Sillinger.

    Sillinger, 18, is already a regular in the Blue Jackets’ lineup (and the youngest player in the NHL), making positive contributions, and looks to be a significant part of the team’s future.

    There was also a second-round pick (No. 44) involved in the deal, which Columbus immediately flipped to Carolina for defenseman Jake Bean.

    Bean, 23, plays the second most minutes on the team (behind only Zach Werenski) and as of Tuesday has four goals and eight assists on the season.

    When all of the subsequent moves are added into the trade tree, the return today looks like this:

    To Chicago: Seth Jones (eight-year, $76M contract), Nolan Allan (No. 32 overall pick), 2022 sixth-round pick
    To Columbus: Adam Boqvist ($867,000 cap hit; RFA after this season), Cole Sillinger (No. 12 overall pick; entry level deal), Jake Bean (three-year, $7M contract), 2022 conditional first-round pick.

    Columbus completely overhauled a significant part of its defense with two younger, cheaper players (and one that might already be Jones’ equal, if not better) and already landed another potential cornerstone player in Sillinger. Given the Blackhawks’ current place in the standings, they might have another top-10 pick coming their way from Chicago in a few months.

    Pretty good return for a player that was not going to re-sign with them after this season.

    Can Bowness fix Dallas Stars’ problems?

    stars bowness
    Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

    How much can an NHL coach fix, and which things are out of their hands? It’s a question that lingers, and really bubbles up during crises (consider the chicken-and-the-egg arguments about Canucks coach Travis Green). Such questions are also quite interesting when it comes to Rick Bowness and the Dallas Stars.

    About a week ago, Bowness tersely insisted that he identified Stars’ problems, and would fix them.

    Since then, the Stars finally earned their first(!) regulation win, and also won two in a row. Yet, after a humbling 7-2 loss to the Wild, people might be wondering about Bowness and the Stars once again.

    So, what are the problems? And can Rick Bowness fix the Stars’ problems?

    It’s crucial to zoom in on the specifics of this season, then zoom out to the Stars’ bigger picture.

    In some ways, the 2021-22 Stars are more of the same

    A week ago, PHT’s Sean Leahy discussed the Stars’ lack of scoring touch. Make no mistake about it, the Stars aren’t exactly lighting up many scoreboards.

    Now, while the Stars would like to score more often, it’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t necessarily a new issue. Since 2019-20 (Bowness’ first partial season with the Stars), Dallas averaged 2.66 goals per game, tied for eighth-worst in the NHL. They haven’t been a top-10 team in goals since 2015-16 when they … scored more than anyone else.

    (Pours one out for a style of Stars team that died far, far too young.)

    Ultimately, the Stars do this by design. They want to limit scoring chances against, get the key saves, and hope they can score by luck or counterpunch.

    Systems-wise, the 2021-22 Stars aren’t that far off from recent versions. You can see from this Hockey Viz chart that the Stars’ offense isn’t overly threatening this season, although they manufacture their fair share of high-danger chances:

    Meanwhile, their defense is stingy, like usual.

    Boring? It sure can be. Just ask Tyler Seguin, who’s embraced the boredom on multiple occasions.

    Indeed, it’s a refrain you hear around hockey all the time. Of course, it’s easier to defend boring when it works. But when you’re losing and you’re bland? Yikes.

    Considering the Stars’ sometimes-Tron-tastic uniforms, the lower moments feel like a nap at a rave.

    Either way, it seems like Rick Bowness’ image as a “players’ coach” has been taking some big hits. You’re already rolling the dice morale-wise with a system like this. Then pull stuff like healthy scratching Riley Tufte in this sort of context? Brutal.

    Can’t blame a Stars player if they felt ever-so-slightly less obliged to block a shot that night.

    Live by the goalies, die by the goalies

    Yes, goalies can swing the fates of even the most explosive offensive teams. Still, it’s not outrageous to say that all-defensive teams are that much more vulnerable to goalie slumps. The margin of error can be that much slimmer.

    Ultimately, goaltending is the relatively “new” issue for the Dallas Stars.

    After enjoying some absolutely bonkers years of goaltending from Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, Stars goaltending went from a strength to neutral to a weakness. Hockey Reference’s version of Goals Saved Against Average provides a fascinating snapshot.

    2020-21: -5.2 GSAA (Anton Khudobin’s -7.24 GSAA ranks second-worst in the NHL).

    2019-20: Exactly zero, remarkably. (Khudobin: -2.4; Jake Oettinger: +2.4.)

    2018-19: +31 thanks to elite work from Bishop and Khudobin.

    2017-18: +49, as Bishop and Khudobin were just on another level.

    Realistically, the Stars couldn’t have expected that ride to last forever. That said, the team couldn’t quite brace for this screeching halt.

    Generally speaking, they’re giving their goalies a solid chance to succeed with such a commitment to defense. As far as Bowness goes, the best “fixes” he can offer boil down to choosing the right goalies. Increasingly, it seems like Khudobin is in a funk. Braden Holtby‘s been solid, and Jake Oettinger may warrant more looks.

    But it might just be true that the goalie gravy train ran empty. Considering the age of Khudobin and Bishop (whose health is in limbo), the Stars can’t act totally blindsided.

    Tougher big-picture Stars questions

    Credit Bowness for this much: the Stars really have been playing better lately. Particularly since he insisted he could fix them.

    During the last three games, they tied the high-danger chance battle once (13 -13 vs. the Red Wings) and won it twice. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case in that Wild shellacking, but the Stars did their part at even-strength.

    We’ll get a better idea about Bowness’ tweaks as the Stars approach a key stretch.

    All of that said, it’s possible that the Stars’ issues exceed Bowness’ grasp.

    Murky future

    Not long ago, the Stars’ mixture of obsessive defense, elite goaltending, and a few offensive difference-makers created a fairly potent broth. To some, that run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final served as a proof of concept.

    Yet, with goaltending a glaring question — if not a reliable weakness — it’s fair to wonder if the Stars need a different approach.

    Look at their salary structure, and you’ll see some problems (Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin) and a long-term commitment to Miro Heiskanen. Beyond that, the Stars need to make key, looming decisions:

    • Splendid sophomore Jason Robertson is in a contract year. Might want to take care of that, in case the 22-year-old jumps another level as a pending RFA.
    • John Klingberg, 29, is in a contract year and understandably wants a raise from his bargain $4.25M. Will the Stars pay up? As is, it’s a tough sell. Getting less ice time than Heiskanen is one thing, but the Stars tend to trot out Esa Lindell more often, as well. That said, if the Stars decided to emphasize offense more, then Klingberg makes more sense.
    • What does the future hold for Joe Pavelski, 37, and Alexander Radulov, 35?
    • Roope Hintz, 25, is a steal at $3.15M. That contract only lasts through 2022-23, so the Stars must tread lightly (and hope people don’t get the hint that Hintz is a borderline star).
    • Their goaltending situation is unclear. Especially if they don’t think Oettinger is starter material.

    Overall, there are plenty of questions for the Stars. Conceivably, Bowness could fix some of the smaller Stars problems, or at least try to mitigate issues. As far as the larger identity of this team goes, though? That’s a tough call for just about anyone.

    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.

    Should Canadiens worry about bad start, Bergevin’s future as GM?

    Vitor Munhoz/NHLI via Getty Images
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    With his team off to a discouraging 0-4-0 start (three goals for, 15 against), Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin addressed the media on Wednesday.

    You can watch Bergevin’s press conference in the video above. Overall, the two most pertinent takeaways were:

    1. Bergevin said he doesn’t plan on making moves just to make moves after the Canadiens’ rough start.
    2. “In a perfect world” Bergevin would sign a new contract with the Canadiens. (He’s currently on an expiring deal as Habs GM.)

    Let’s examine the state of the 0-4-0 Canadiens in terms of this season, and also the future. We’ll also ponder if Bergevin should steer the Canadiens’ ship — and how difficult it would be for a replacement to remove Bergevin’s imprint, even if Montreal did make a change.

    How worried should the Canadiens be about their 2021-22 season?

    During Bergevin’s run, the Canadiens are no strangers to regular season struggles. When Claude Julien was coach, the team often hogged the puck in promising ways. The lack of saves and goals that resulted? Less promising. But you could still see a lane where Montreal might jump to a more consistently competitive level.

    So, there’d be comfort if the Canadiens were 0-4-0 mainly because of bad luck. And, when results are this extreme, there has been some bad luck.

    [PHT’s Atlantic Division predictions]

    In the big picture, their 5-on-5 numbers (via Natural Stat Trick) mostly match their 0-4-0 record.

    • They rank sixth-worst in the NHL with 40.74-percent of high-danger chances in their favor (22 for, 32 against).
    • Their 45.21-percent expected goals rate ranks 10th-worst.
    • Montreal also ranks seventh-worst with 44.44-percent of scoring chances.
    • In volume stats like shots, Corsi, Fenwick, they generally sit in the bottom half of the NHL.

    Not great, but four games is a molehill compared to the mountain of an 82-game season. Andrew Berkshire’s tweet captures the Canadiens’ dilemma: worry, or don’t worry?

    The extreme nature of this bad Habs start is surprising. But plenty questioned whether their 2020 Stanley Cup Final run was “for real.” All of PHT’s staff predictions placed the Canadiens outside of the playoffs.

    So, yes, it’s too early to panic. It’s not too early to wonder if the Canadiens will miss the playoffs, though.

    Should Canadiens keep Bergevin as GM? If not, would a replacement have wiggle room?

    Despite those doubts, Bergevin is right: the Canadiens shouldn’t make a panic trade.

    Unfortunately, that’s because the Canadiens don’t look like they’re a tweak or two from solving their problems. Ultimately, they’re the sum of the mistakes and successes of their GM. Which brings us to a burning question: should Bergevin remain as Canadiens GM?

    [The Canadiens are wondering if they should worry. Should these teams be excited?]

    Again, it circles back to a tougher thought. Would a new GM really have much room to operate if the Canadiens replaced Bergevin? Plenty would feel stuck with what’s already committed in long-term deals.

    • Nick Suzuki, 22, recently signed a big (mostly understandable) extension. From 2022-23 to 2029-30, he’ll carry a $7.875M cap hit.
    • Carey Price, 34, carries a $10.5M cap hit through 2025-26.
    • Yes, it’s true that Shea Weber may be done at age 36, possibly permanently moving his $7.857M cap hit to LTIR. The deal technically runs through 2025-26, and may or may not involve some cap recapture. It’s at least something to possibly deal with.
    • Brendan Gallagher is easily worth more than $6.5M now. At 29, with injuries piling up and a style that hinges on taking punishment, will that deal age well through 2026-27?
    • Josh Anderson, 27, costs $5.5M though 2026-27.
    • Jeff Petry mirrors Gallagher: worth far more than his $6.25M cap hit. Petry’s already 33, and that runs through 2024-25.
    • Beyond core-type players, Bergevin loves to indulge in meaty deals for depth players. David Savard, Mike Hoffman, Joel Edmundson, Joel Armia, Christian Dvorak, and Tyler Toffoli are all locked up for at least three years apiece. That’s a mix of older and younger players. Some are bargains; others look dicey. They all add to a picture that Bergevin’s decisions will reverberate even if he’s off to pump iron somewhere else.
    • Jonathan Drouin (two years left at $5.5M) and Jake Allen ($2.875M) could clear up some space after 2022-23, but only so much.

    [Catch up on what happened in the NHL on Tuesday]

    As far as future decisions go, one looms large.

    After the 2022-23 season, Cole Caufield’s rookie contract expires. After the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet and Suzuki extension, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bergevin wanted to be proactive with the small sniper — assuming the Canadiens don’t make a GM change.

    Would a different GM find a better balance? Would that same GM be more likely to move out a problem contract or two? Bergevin’s rarely been shy about changing directions in dramatic ways, but maybe he simply is too close to decisions like signing Armia? Or he’d fight a rebuild for too long?

    Those are the questions that linger regarding Bergevin’s status as Canadiens GM. Because, in some ways, they’re stuck with what he’s done — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright confusing.

    Uncomfortably, the Canadiens might have already missed the best window to move on from Bergevin as their mixed-bag of a GM.

    Hurricanes’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi primed for Montreal return

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi
    Getty Images

    MONTREAL — After signing a surprising offer sheet in restricted free agency with the Carolina Hurricanes in late August, Jesperi Kotkaniemi waited seven days to see if the Montreal Canadiens would match the one-year, $6.1 million deal.

    “That week went really fast,” Kotkaniemi recalled Tuesday. “Didn’t think about that too much, just try to live my normal life during that. Just enjoy the moment.”

    The Canadiens, of course, decided to walk away from the contract with Kotkaniemi despite selecting him third overall in the 2018 NHL draft. The 21-year-old Kotkaniemi and his Hurricanes will be in Montreal on Thursday night for a game that was circled the moment his move was made official.

    “That was one game on my schedule that I looked out for,” he said. “It’ll be fun to see old teammates, some fans there. It will be a blast.”

    There’s no debate that Kotkaniemi failed to live up to expectations with the Canadiens. He was demoted to the minors in the 2019-20 season and scored just five goals and 20 points during the pandemic-truncated 2020-21 season.

    Kotkaniemi did score five times and added three assists in 19 playoff games when the Canadiens made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final. But he was a healthy scratch to open the first round, and again in Games 4 and 5 of the championship series before Montreal bowed out to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I have really good memories,” Kotkaniemi said Tuesday when asked if there were any hard feelings in Montreal. “Grateful that they drafted me and gave me a chance. That was a great spot to play for three years. Everyone knows they’ve got unbelievable fans, great teammates — can’t wish for a better way to start my NHL career.”

    He was, however, critical on his way out the door about how his development was handled by a team desperate for help down the middle. Kotkaniemi was passed in the pecking order by center Nick Suzuki, who recently signed an eight-year, $63 million extension.

    Kotkaniemi ended his career with the Canadiens with 22 goals and 62 points in 171 regular-season games.

    The Hurricanes are trying to transform Kotkaniemi, who indicated he’s open to signing with Carolina long-term, into a winger on their top line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

    “Winger spot is still a little bit new to me,” said Kotkaniemi, who’s without a point through two games. “They’re helping me with that every day. Getting a lot of new tips and advice. I’m just part of this team … I belong here.”

    Not that long ago, he no doubt felt the same about Montreal.