On July 1st, 2019, The Montreal Canadiens tendered a five-year, $42.27 million dollar offer sheet to Carolina forward Sebastian Aho. After an immediate offer sheet match, there had been speculation that Carolina would attempt to “revenge offer sheet” a player from the Canadiens as a form of payback. Little did we know that day would be today. Earlier this evening, the Carolina Hurricanes tendered a one-year, $6.1 million dollar offer sheet to former Canadiens 3rd overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The following article will consist of our thoughts on the deal, regardless of whichever team Kotkaniemi eventually plays for in 2021-22, as well as the cap implications that come with it. We will also discuss the incredibly specific details in the contract structure of this Kotkaniemi offer sheet, and why we believe the Hurricanes have put themselves in a difficult position.
In his three seasons in the NHL, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has never registered an individual scoring season higher than forty, as his most was his thirty-four points (eleven goals, twenty-three assists) in his 2018-19 rookie year, both of which remain career highs. Since that year, he has registered twenty-eight total points, and hasn’t seemed to have found his offensive game. This being said, he is only twenty-one years old, and with a greater opportunity in Carolina, perhaps these higher point totals will come. AB-wise, Kotkaniemi is coming off his best individual AB season at +0.27 and has one more positive season at +0.09 in his rookie year. Although, in 2019-20, he posted an abysmal -5.38 score. At a $6.1m cap hit, we believe without question, as do many others, that the deal is an overpayment of several million dollars. When we ran Kotkaniemi through our arbitration analyzer, we determined his closest comparable was Arizona’s Antoine Roussel, as the two were only separated by .12 Points/AB (19.11 Roussel, 18.99 Kotkaniemi). In his nine-year career, Roussel never was paid more than $3 million AAV in a single season. The $6.1 million dollar cap hit falls in between the $4,110,733-$6,166,096 range on the NHL’s offer sheet compensation chart. According to CapFriendly.com’s offer sheet calculator, sixteen teams had the ability to make an offer sheet of this magnitude. These teams include Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina, Dallas, Detroit Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Ottawa, Philadelphia, San Jose, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington. If Montreal declines to match this offer sheet in the next seven days, they will receive 1st round pick, as well as a 3rd round pick from Montreal as compensation.
Kotkaniemi’s deal includes a $20 signing bonus (Aho’s jersey number) and will also make his qualifying offer at the expiration of this deal $6.1 million dollars as well. This is an outrageous jump from his $874,125 qualifying offer he was extended on July 26th, 2021 and puts Carolina in a very tough spot for next season. If his offensive production doesn’t dramatically improve, they could decide to not extend his qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted-free-agent at twenty-two years old, on top of losing their 1st and 3rd round pick in a potentially loaded draft. We also noticed that this $6.1 million dollar offer sheet, as well as the $2.9 million they gave to their possible Dougie Hamilton replacement in Ian Cole, they could have afforded Hamilton’s $9 million dollar cap hit for this season. Although the Hamilton deal was much longer in term, it’s fun for us to speculate. Speaking of fun, the behavior of Hurricanes General Manager Don Waddell in regard to his explanation of the decision to offer sheet Kotkaniemi was certainly something we found entertaining. In addition to the $20 signing bonus we already discussed, Waddell appeared to echo Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin after the Aho offer sheet as displayed in the tweets below.
If the Montreal Canadiens do not match this offer sheet, then the Carolina Hurricanes will be around two million dollars over the salary cap, and another move is likely coming before the start of training camp. It’s a massive gamble for the Hurricanes, and we believe the Canadiens would be smart to take the compensation and allow Kotkaniemi to leave. We will see what occurs over the course of the next several days, but we expect Jesperi Kotkaniemi to be part of a loaded center group in Carolina, consisting of Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, and Martin Necas when it’s all said and done. Much more to come.