Offer Sheet Storm Approaching

by Georgia McCann

In 2019, the Montreal Canadiens offer sheeted a Finnish forward (Sebastian Aho), whose rights were owned by the Carolina Hurricanes.

This year, the Canes stormed into the Habs’ future plans with vengeance and offer sheeted Montreal’s own Finnish forward – Jesperi Kotkaniemi – with a one year, $6.1 million deal. But what is an offer sheet? Why was Carolina so offended and why are Montreal in such a jam? This dive into the chaos will outline all that and much more.

WHAT IS AN RESTRICTED FREE AGENT?

Despite being out of contract, both Aho and Kotkaniemi’s futures were still controlled by their respective teams. By being restricted free agents (RFAs), their team simply presents the qualifying offer and retains their negotiating rights. The player can accept the initial qualifying offer or can enter discussions to reach an agreement on an improved contract.

WHAT IS AN OFFER SHEET?

Once a player becomes an RFA and is qualified, whilst negotiating, he is available to accept an offer sheet from another team. Essentially, this is just signing another contract as if they were an unrestricted free agent. However, as the player is still considered by the NHL to be an RFA, his team has seven days to match the offer. Currently the Canadiens have not done this and time is running out.

WHAT ARE THE REPURCUSSIONS?

The first is the obvious one – the offer sheeted player’s team loses their man. They do gain some compensation though in the form of draft picks and this is based on the average annual salary of the offered contract (for reference, the Canadiens will receive Carolina’s 2022 1st round and 3rd round picks).

If Montreal decide they want to keep Kotkaniemi, Carolina lose out on the player but Montreal will struggle to find the cap space to fit him and any other players in.

But the real problem a team can face is the reaction and this is shown by quite literally the contract offered to Kotkaniemi.

The former third overall pick is a decent forward, no doubt, but no disrespect to the Finn, he is not a $6.1 million per year decent. This was done with the knowledge that Habs general manager Marc Bergevin will be doing some mental cap gymnastics trying to see if his team can take the hit.

But wait, there’s more! A $20.00 signing bonus, referring to Aho’s jersey number. The press release, essentially copying Bergevin’s own in 2019, followed by a release in French just to make sure every Quebec native understood what fun they were having.

If there was any doubt the Hurricanes were offended when Bergevin rolled the dice two years ago, that has well and truly been cleared up.

SHOULD MONTREAL MATCH?

We will find out on 4th September, but in my opinion, no. It is true with the loss of Phillip Danault, Montreal needs all the help at centre they can get and Kotkaniemi is young enough to keep developing.

Sebastien Aho was the subject of a similar deal two years ago (PHOTO: NHL)
But Nick Suzuki’s huge payday is on the horizon and the Habs cannot afford to be committing over $6 million to a player they have publicly shown they do not fully believe in, by making him watch the majority of the Stanley Cup Final from the press box.
Kotkaniemi will then need extending and sure, he may take a team friendly pay cut. If not, he retains his RFA status upon expiry and if qualified, there is another $6.1 million pay out due.

Finally, the compensation Carolina would be sending is honestly worth more than Kotkaniemi and both picks could be flipped in a package for an actual top-six centre that the team is crying out for.

Unless you are actually Marc Bergevin or a Canadiens fan, the chaos has been fun this week – who doesn’t love the drama of an offer sheet?

But it will definitely interesting to see the long term effect of the Montreal decision, regardless of what it is. Would Kotkaniemi still want to play for Montreal, perhaps feeling he could get more elsewhere?
What trade would they make to accommodate his salary? Would a potential new home for Kotkaniemi help him become the player he was projected to be? We will see by Saturday.