Canadiens Review Of The Kotkaniemi Saga, Two Years Later
When the Montreal Canadiens learned that Jesperi Kotkaniemi had signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes, things quickly went south.
But the problems with Kotkaniemi in Montreal had already started to surface, and his relationship with the team had already begun to unravel.
Not only was the third-overall pick in 2018 struggling to meet expectations, but his usage was also incredibly inconsistent, to the point that Kotkaniemi, along with players like Cole Caufield, was made a healthy scratch during the playoffs.
A questionable decision by former head coach Dominique Ducharme, to say the least.
Locker cleanout day was the first big hint there was a major problem between the young forward and the management team.
The end-of-season meeting between Kotkaniemi and Marc Bergevin did not go very well, as evidenced by the length of the meeting, which was close to two hours, as well as Kotkaniemi’s disposition when addressing the media afterward.
It came as no surprise that Kotkaniemi was looking for a fresh start with another team.
The Canadiens did not offer any stability or any insurance that he would play a prominent role on the team going forward.
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, invested heavily in the young Finn.
Not only did they send a pair of picks to the Canadiens in exchange for signing Kotkaniemi to the offer sheet, but they also paid handsomely for his potential with an expensive one-year contract, as well as a rather rich contract extension thereafter.
Who won? Who lost?
Kotkaniemi has settled into his role as the Hurricanes’ second (or third) centre and has produced fantastic underlying numbers playing alongside some of the Hurricanes’ best players.
His production is not great, he’s on pace to earn 40 points this season, but it’s also worth remembering that at 22 years old, Kotkaniemi is approaching his statistical prime, which should lead to an uptick in scoring.
The question becomes, did the Hurricanes take the right approach?
They paid a first-round pick and a third-round pick for a player who is yet to reach 40 points in his career, in addition to the expensive one-year contract.
Considering the offer sheet was fueled by owner Tom Dundon’s frustration over a previous offer sheet, you’d be hard-pressed to argue the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, which was done in coordination with the Hurricanes social team and included a $20 signing bonus, was much more than a $6 million marketing scheme, which, frankly, has not offered great returns.
But the Hurricanes may yet receive a healthy return on their investment.
Kotkaniemi hasn’t flourished in their system as expected, but he hasn’t regressed either. He’s yet to surpass 12 goals, but given his usage, he should finally reach the 15-goal mark at some point this season.
For now, we can safely say the Hurricanes acquired a good, not great, centre that has second-line potential if he can improve his production.
Fortunately for Hurricane fans (and Kotkaniemi), the team seems intent on giving him all the opportunities possible to find another gear, which is the right approach to developing a young player in the NHL, and something the Canadiens should emulate given their track records with high picks.
I don’t consider the Kotkaniemi saga to be a win for the Hurricanes, but it’s not a loss, either.
There’s still time left for Kotkaniemi to provide good value for his contract.
Time will tell.
More than anything, the Kotkaniemi episode in Montreal represented one of the biggest issues during Marc Bergevin‘s tenure as general manager: poor communication.
The team was frustrated by the player’s results, and the player was frustrated by the team’s usage. When the two finally met, the sparks were abundant.
Considering Kotkaniemi was quickly losing favour with his coach and the management team, it’s unlikely he would have flourished with the Canadiens.
May 29th, 2021
Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi scores the game-winning goal in OT to send the series to Game 7! #GoosebumpSports #JesperiKotkaniemi #Canadiens #MapleLeafs #NHL #NHLPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/jhl9xj5E7D
— Goosebump Sports (@GoosebumpSports) March 21, 2022
However, the crux of the issue, communication, was a significant red flag, and all the evidence necessary to suggest Bergevin’s time with the Canadiens had run its course.
But it did not have to be that way. An honest and open line of communication would have done wonders.
He was far from the only player who left the team with a sour taste in his mouth.
Alex Radulov, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban and others can attest to the previous regimes’ tendency to play hardball with its best players.
Players talk, and Montreal quickly became known as a “do not sign” destination due to the way players were treated.
There’s nothing more frustrating than being part of a team while also being treated as an outsider by those in charge.
It’s the epitome of a toxic workplace, and Kotkaniemi deserved better.
The entire process also put Bergevin’s lack of long-term vision at the forefront. He rarely had a contingency plan in place, and when things went south, so did his decision-making.
The Kotkaniemi affair was definitely not a win for the Canadiens.
The real winner(s)
Receiving a first and third-round pick for a player coming off two disappointing seasons was a very reasonable haul for the Canadiens.
What they did with those picks is a whole other issue, and resulted in the Arizona Coyotes being the clear winners of the Kotkaniemi offer sheet.
In addition, I’d suggest Kotkaniemi, who signed a $38.5 million annual average value contract before hitting 35 points in his NHL career, was also a winner by using two teams to leverage an expensive contract.
But there’s a third player who wasn’t part of the trade and may end up being the most valuable asset of all, and the real winner of the offer sheet.
Dvorak’s goal today, what an effort by Kirby Dach pic.twitter.com/HvxNj62u2u
— Habs Fan TV (@habsfantv_) February 12, 2023
With Kotkaniemi out of the picture, the Canadiens needed to re-stock their centre depth with a young player that still held a fair amount of potential, and Dach ended up being a perfect choice.
He’s everything the Canadiens hoped Kotkaniemi would become: a strong, efficient forward with size and talent. A player who improves every single line he plays on, and creates time and space for his linemates in transition.
Dach, along with the Coyotes and Kotkaniemi, should be considered the true winner(s) of the 2021 summer saga.
This is what happens when you hire based on language and not ability.
We learned after 2 French GM’s were let go .
It only took Molson worried about dropping Molson sales during the pandemic while alcohol sales for everyone else went up .
The Molson Board after all dictates how things go, they cover cost of Facilities which if you take away Geoff and his brothers cant afford even with their dad backing them. One of the last things Peter Coors did before Semi Retiring was threaten funding then poof MB is gone , Ducharme’s gone , Timmons gone , Mellanby gone .
I think the key here next time the F up is an organized Habs FansCampaign to buy Budweiser lol
That’s a good review. The Canadiens’ management’s focus under Bergevin was to win the Stanley cup. Kotkaniemi was still a young player who’s development had been precipitated in the NHL. Ducharme did his best to win during the playoffs and the team reached the finals in 2021. His decisions did not please Kotkaniemi, but the players who played allowed the team to win series after series. Integrating a high draft pick in a team has its challenges. The error, a communication failure, is quite believable.
Let’s hope that a new management will not make that same error in the context of a rebuild with our top draft picks.
They have Coach Nicholas in a new position created to kinda work as someone who helps keep an eye on Progress and Morale.
That said KK got bent outta shape when Suzuki took his spot in the Depth Chart.
He went from Future top line Center to likely 3rd as the assumption was Danault would re-sign.(or likely was from KK POV)
Plus ontop of that MB was shopping for Centers at the TDL almost taking Dvorak whom we really coulda used when KK crapped the bed. I still use this as an example of why you always draft the best available player not just the position you’re weakest in .