A year after losing a 21-year-old top 3 draft pick to an offer sheet last September, should the Montreal Canadiens try to gain a soon-to-be 22-year-old top 3 pick the same way they lost one?
If the latter is New York Rangers winger Kaapo Kakko, whom the Rangers drafted second overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the answer from here is an emphatic “hell no!”
After being scratched for a do-or-die Game 6 in what proved to be the series-clincher in a 2-1 win for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Kakko has become the subject of rampant offer sheet speculation. The Rangers winger had been part of the successful ‘Kid Line’, with Alexis Lafrieniere and Filip Chytil, in the team’s run to within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final. Looking for a spark in his offense though in a must-win game, Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant made Kakko a healthy scratch after the Finnish winger went pointless in Games 3, 4 and 5.
“Trying to win a hockey game. Just dressing my lineup,” Gallant said during his team’s end of the season media session Monday. “When we sit down and talk about our lineup that’s what we do. We love the kid, he’s a good young player but we thought that was the best lineup to win that game.”
Does that sound familiar Montreal Canadiens fans?
Shout out to hockey hall of fame scribe Larry Brooks for pointing out the similarities to the Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Canadiens relationship that deteriorated after then Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme benched 2018 third overall pick for the final two games of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. The Canadiens won Game 4 to avoid a sweep but then lost down in Tampa Bay as the Bolts won their second-straight Stanley Cup.
From Brooks’ column Sunday:
‘A year ago, the Canadiens scratched pending restricted free agent Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Finn whom they had selected third overall in 2018, for Games 4 and 5 — the final two games — of the cup final against Tampa Bay.
Kotkaniemi, who had recorded 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 171 career games, never played another game for Montreal. Instead, the center rather famously signed a one-year offer sheet from Carolina worth $6,100,035. The Habs failed to match, instead opting to take compensation of a first- and third-round draft pick.
There was, of course, a certain amount of payback involved in the ’Canes’ ownership decision to target Kotkaniemi a year after Montreal had extended an offer sheet to Carolina star center Sebastien Aho that was quickly matched.
So that was part of it. But an equally large part of it is that Kotkaniemi was susceptible to an offer sheet and more than willing to be seduced.’
Now the NHL is watching closely to see if Kakko will follow in Kotkamiemi’s footsteps and send the bat signals out through his agent that he is willing to talk offer sheet. Kakko had two goals and three assists in 19 playoff games after his third regular season in the NHL got derailed by a wrist injury that kept him out of the lineup for 31 games He finished the season with seven goals and 11 assists in 43 games. However, as Brooks pointed out in his column, it’s still likely that Kaako could still receive an offer sheet that would put the Rangers, like the Montreal Canadiens last August with Kotkaniemi, a salary cap pickle:
‘The Rangers would be helpless if Kakko receives an offer sheet in the range of $4.2 million to $6.3 million that would bring with it nothing more than the Kotkaniemi compensation of a first- and third-rounder. With second contracts due to both Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller in another year that would likely amount to upwards of a combined $10 million, the Blueshirts’ hierarchy would not be able to match any offer sheet that is worth signing.’
Based on a convo with one NHL executive source late Monday afternoon, Brooks is being generous.
“This is totally Kotkaniemi Part 2,” the source told MHN. “That offer sheet loss has set the table for this to happen more often in situations like this. I truly do believe he will get a one-year, $6.5 million offer if the Rangers don’t extend him before July 13. This could get ugly.”
What could also get ugly is if the Montreal Canadiens decide to pursue some kind of offer sheet redemption and play the role of the Carolina Hurricanes last summer with an offer sheet to Kakko. If the Canadiens are truly in a rebuild, you just can’t throw that type of money, and then next season, maybe even more at player who to this point has underachieved with just 26 goals and 37 assists in 158 regular season games and just five points in 22 playoff games. Furthermore, you don’t relinquish any 2023 first round picks (as they would be required to – along with a third rounder- for such an offer sheet), for what to this point is just another unproven commodity.
“As tempting as it may be, I’m not doing that if I’m Jeff [Gorton] or Kent [Hughes],” the NHL Executive said. “They need to stay the course here and not get sidetracked. That’s what offer-sheeting Kaako would do in my opinion.”
Here’s hoping Gorton isn’t seduced by the idea of acquiring the player he drafted second overall at the 2019 NHL Draft as general manager of the Rangers.