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Canadiens Lessons Learned From The Jesperi Kotkaniemi Saga

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Kotkaniemi Montreal Canadiens

By now you’ve surely heard about the success (or lack thereof) of former Montreal Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi during the most recent NHL playoffs.

As has been the case in the last few years, the Carolina Hurricanes were unceremoniously eliminated from the NHL playoffs well before they had reached a level that would be considered acceptable for a team with such a talented lineup.

With just one assist in 11 games, Kotkaniemi has become the poster boy for the Hurricanes’ frustrations this season. Like most of his teammates, Kotkaniemi maintained excellent underlying numbers, but the results never quite caught up to the process, leading a demotion to the fourth line, not to mention an assignment on the wing rather than his natural position at centre.

Kotakniemi’s fall from grace is not something to be celebrated.

Of course, Habs fans are well within their rights to poke a little fun at the situation.

Let’s be clear.

The Hurricanes did not tender an offer sheet because they thought it would gain them an advantage on the ice. This was simply the evolution of a petty battle between a frustrated general manager and an insecure owner.

Even though two teams may be participating in an outright war for the services of a player, they might both end up as the losers in the situation.

In this particular case, both the Hurricanes and the Canadiens lost.

Carolina is stuck with a player who still holds some potential but will have to climb a significant mountain before they can justify his contract, which carries a $4.82 million annual average value until 2030.

The Canadiens made the right decision when they chose not to match the offer sheet, but they also proceeded to panic, which led to a gross overpayment for Christian Dvorak, to the tune of a 2022 first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick.

Of course, Dvorak’s production has been rather disappointing since joining the Canadiens, but he still earned more points per game than Kotkaniemi during the last three seasons. The real saving grace for the Canadiens is that Dvorak’s contract is set to expire next summer. In that sense, the Canadiens accidentally mitigated the damage by acquiring a player that would not negatively impact the franchise long-term.

But make no mistake, the Canadiens will end up with very little to show for a player they picked third overall, the ultimate sin from an asset management standpoint.

As for Kotakniemi, despite earning an early payday, the mere fact that he’s one of the least productive players in the league compared to his salary cap hit means he’s now a legitimate buyout target.

But even if the Canadiens, the Hurricanes, and Kotkaniemi lost out, there are some winners to discuss.

The Utah TBDs took advantage of the chaos to acquire top-tier draft capital from the Canadiens. Within the chaos, they found opportunity, as all good salesmen tend to do.

You could also suggest Kotakniemi’s agent, the one who orchestrated the whole situation, was victorious by earning a significant chunk of cash once the young Finn signed his massive contract extension.

But when a player agent and a third-party team end up as the only winners, there’s a very important lesson in play.

Hockey is a business.

It’s also a very difficult business in which to succeed.

Adding emotional decision-making to the mix only further muddies the swamp.