The offer sheet drama between the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens is fantastic entertainment, and shows the value that offer sheets can bring, if teams were willing to try them more.
Whoever would’ve thought that there would be actual interesting news in the NHL in the dead of August? Least of all, news of an offer sheet? Unheard of in this league where the best we can usually hope for at this point in the offseason is arbitration hearings.
The Carolina Hurricanes tendered an offer sheet to Montreal Canadiens RFA Jesperi Kotkaniemi, worth $6.1M on a one year contract. The Canadiens have seven days to match the contract if they wish to keep Kotkaniemi. If they do not, the compensation they will get in return will be a first and a third round pick in next years draft.
This offer sheet from Carolina came purely out of spite for the Canadiens doing the same to Sebastian Aho in the 2019 offseason, as shown by the outward pettiness from the Hurricanes twitter account in announcing the signing, and the details of the contract down to a $20 signing bonus in reference to Sebastian Aho’s jersey number.
I don’t know why, but the picture in my head of Kotkaniemi signing the contract and immediately being handed a crisp twenty dollar bill is extraordinarily funny to me, and I hope that actually happens.
The Hurricanes even copied the statement that the Canadiens made when the offer sheeted Aho almost word for word. Everything single detail about this offer sheet is focused on petty revenge, which you rarely ever see from general managers usually so concerned with not stepping on anybody’s toes.
This offer sheet has the hockey world alive and buzzing again, and debating the pros and cons for both sides. It’s the most alive the hockey world has been since free agency opened over a month ago, as well as setting up a tense week of waiting for the Habs decision of whether or not to match the deal. Not to mention setting up what could be a must watch set of games this upcoming season.
If Montreal does match, the contract will put them in a less than ideal spot with the salary cap, and could force other subsequent moves. This contract would also force a qualifying offer of at least the same amount next season, and Kotkaniemi has not at all proven that he’s worth anywhere close to that kind of money so far in his young career. On the contrary, they could call Carolina’s bluff and stick them with the contract instead, as well as get some valuable draft picks in return, but lose out on a young center that they drafted to be a core player down the line. It’s a fascinating situation, and a huge risk for both sides.
This kind of entertainment and drama is what’s been missing from the NHL at times, especially during the offseason when there is absolutely nothing happening. Offer sheets have become so rare they’ve become a punchline in hockey circles. Since 2010, there has been only five offer sheets in the NHL, including this one for Kotkaniemi. All of them were eventually matched. The last offer sheet that was not matched was in 2007, when the Edmonton Oilers offer sheeted Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks.
Offer sheets are a plenty viable tactic for teams to use in the right situations, both to improve their own teams and screw over another. In a salary cap world where teams must carefully plan every penny, offer sheets should be a smart way to pry valuable players from teams in tough financial situations. Star players may not the best offer sheet options, but the other tiers of players that teams can have trouble fitting should be a perfect candidate, like Kotkaniemi is here.
The issue holding that up is that NHL general managers value their working relationships with each other, and don’t want to screw each other over in order to make deals down the line. Which is fair enough, but when it comes at the cost of using all the options at your disposal to improve your team. Besides, it’s each individual general managers job to ensure that they don’t put their teams in the position to be exposed to potential offer sheets, not others job to not damage their pride.
Offseasons in the NHL could become exponentially more interesting if offer sheets became a more prevalent occurrence, even if it only forced teams to be more cautious about protecting against them. Not to mention giving younger players more leverage in RFA negotiations, and the potential to get them more money earlier in their careers as opposed to waiting until they hit UFA.
Unfortunately, the dream of more offer sheets in the NHL is more likely to be stamped out by this move from the Hurricanes in revenge towards the Canadiens rather than the opposite. If anything, it shows that an offer sheet will likely never go unpunished, no matter how viable a tactic it is. So enjoy the chaos of this situation while it lasts, because it’ll unfortunately likely be the last of its kind for a very long time.