Eggs Bennett Issue 21-02
August 30, 2021
The Montreal Canadiens find themselves dead centre in the eye of a hurricane just weeks before the opening of training camp. On Saturday afternoon, the Carolina Hurricanes announced they had signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a one year, $6.1M offer sheet.
We should not be shocked, on three fronts. Firstly, GM Marc Bergevin’s tenure in Montreal has a few pronounced markers, and one of them is playing hard ball in contract negotiations to the point of alienation. Secondly, Carolina owed us one. Just two off-seasons ago, Bergevin signed Hurricanes RFA Sebastien Aho to an offer sheet. Thirdly, revenge would not be possible for the Canes if they had not found a willing participant in Kotkaniemi. A playoff benching, a carousel of linemates, and a press conference reference to Evans taking Danault’s place come to mind.
The Canes made no effort to hide the revenge factor. They copied the Habs 2019 announcement – in English and French, no less. They added a $20 signing bonus intended to draw attention to Aho’s #20. Most importantly, they did the offer sheet right. The only way it works is if you overpay and tie the other team in knots about whether their guy is worth is. Bergevin’s offer sheet to Aho was easy for the Canes to match. This one… not so much.
There are three potential paths out of the hurricane.
The most obvious path for the Habs to take is to simply match the offer. It’s not ideal. Kotkaniemi is not worth that contract today. It messes with their cap structure for the future. But if a rival team is prepared to take that chance on the kid – to pay him and play him like a second line centre – Kotkaniemi has to be wondering why the team that drafted him would not be. This path would not be ideal, but it’s also not backbreaking in the way some suggest. Next summer they could negotiate a long-term extension or trade him.
Now is a good time to recall to our minds the fact that Phillip Danault was promoted to 2C and given Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov as wingers while not having accomplished anywhere near as much as Kotkaniemi has in Montreal. The right path for me is to match the deal and give the kid every opportunity to show he’s worth it.
The second path for the Habs is to simply take that inadequate package of draft choices and make those picks next summer in Montreal. This is the least desirable option, in my view. A mid- to- late round first and a third are picks that will take years to develop. It sets the reset back 3-5 years while Bergevin goes back to trying to find a centre. This is not a viable option unless you’re prepared to accept being totally screwed by the Canes.
The third path is one that fans went to immediately, and pundits have written and podcasted about. The Habs could choose not to match, take the compensation picks, and use the assets in a trade for a second line centre before camp opens.
Trades are hard.
Mother of all things sacred. Are we really going back to the days when Bergevin is scouring the market for a top-6 centre? I personally am longing for a few more reminders of how hard it is to trade for a centre in this league with a video game quip or two thrown in. I imagine the added challenge of every GM in the league knowing he’s screwed will only help facilitate such a deal.
Nonetheless, there are some centres that could be had via trade that are worth thinking about, because if the Habs are not prepared to match the offer to Kotkaniemi, they simply have to find another centre.
Jack Eichel… He’s available, he’s expensive, and he needs surgery.
There is no centre more available on the trade market right now, and none that would cost the Habs more. I don’t see any world where he could be had without giving up one of Suzuki or Caufield, and maybe you think about that for a healthy Eichel.
But the kicker is that Eichel needs surgery, and one that comes with some controversy. Who knows how his health will factor into his future? Even if he can return to 100% healthy, trading for Jack likely means giving up on the season. But I can truly see Bergevin making a run for this. Why? Landing Jack Eichel may be the only way he can say to Canes management, “Thanks for the assist.”
Christian Dvorak… He’s a realistic target, he’s under contract, and he’s a fit.
Dvorak is just 25 and is under a team-friendly contract for four more years. He’s a solid two-way centre who has gradated to performing at a 2C level. It’s hard to imagine why the Coyotes wouldn’t want to keep him. But as is custom in Arizona, they are wide open for business, so the kid is apparently available.
No doubt a 1st and 3rd would go a long way to getting hands on Dvorak, but one wonders if the price goes up a tad for the team with their backs to the wall.
Evgeny Kuznetsov… He’s skilled, he’s aging and he’s pricey.
The Capitals reportedly need to free up cap space and are prepared to give up Ovechkin’s centre to do so. Colour me skeptical on this one. The Russian is 29 and is locked in at 4 x $7.8M. I’m sure the Habs could find a place for Kuznetsov in their centre group, but I’m not as sure he’s actually available.
Ryan Strome… He’s a pending free agent, he’s affordable and he’s alright.
The New York Rangers are rumoured to be very interested in Jack Eichel, and if Strome is not part of that deal he might be available to free up cap space. Perhaps a three-way deal with Buffalo could make Eichel a Ranger, give the Habs an adequate 2C and get the Sabres the return they want.
I dunno man. Three-way trades are the stuff of video games.
Ryan Johansen… He’s available, he’s expensive and he’s disappointed.
Johansen has simply not worked out in Nashville. At 29, four more years at an AAV of $8M is not very marketable for David Poile. But perhaps he could be talked into salary retention and taking back a contract. If the Preds would eat a quarter of that contract and also take Paul Byron in the deal, perhaps the cost becomes palatable.
Even then, the Habs would be counting on getting four productive 2C years out of Johansen, and that’s not exactly a guarantee. I also don’t see Johansen’s style as a fit in Montreal.
Tomas Hertl… He’s a pending UFA, he’s affordable, and he’s solid.
I’m not entirely convinced Hertl is available, but some have suggested the rebuilding Sharks would like to capitalize on Hertl with just this season left on his deal. That would be smart asset management. He’s 27 years old, a solid 200 ft player, and has top-6 production. I think he would be an excellent fit for the Habs.
But the Sharks don’t need to move him and would likely need to see an excellent package to do so before the trade deadline. The Habs would be coughing up that package for just one guaranteed year. Risky.
Coming out of the hurricane intact will be dicey.
The Habs have three paths they can take. For me, one of those paths is not viable. The Habs have to either match the offer sheet and pay and play Kotkaniemi like a 2C, or they need to take the compensation and find a 2C in a couple of weeks. Both paths come with considerable risk.
We have Marc Bergevin’s definitive word on the topic. Trades are hard and this is no video game.