It’s the middle of August. The NHL offseason was as dry as it usually is until all of a sudden, Twitter blows up with news of a Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet. Forgive me for being rather shocked. Today, I’ll attempt to break down one of the most polarizing moves of the past decade in the NHL and detail what I would do and what I think Marc Bergevin will end up doing.
I probably don’t need to go over the terms of the one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet with the petty $20 signing bonus. Still, I’ll bring up a couple of ways to keep the potential offer below the aforementioned $6.1 million figure. The first option is the simple one. Signing an extension before July 1st allows the cap hit to be whatever team and player decide. However, Kotkaniemi is not required to do this by any means. The second option is club elected arbitration. The club elected arbitration is one of the rarer caveats of the highly complicated NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), but an interesting one.
If for some reason, Kotkaniemi were not to sign his qualifying offer and tries to hold out for an even bigger deal, the club can choose to use an independent arbitrator to give out the next contract. Usually, arbitration is a player-elected option when they’re looking for a bridge deal to walk to unrestricted free agency after the contract expires, or for players who aren’t close with contract negotiations looking for a little bit more leverage. The club-elected arbitration is the same but chosen by the organization rather than the player. Recently, we’ve seen the Minnesota Wild use this with Kevin Fiala this summer, but it’s not a super common occurrence. Opting for a club-elected arbitration could bring Kotkaniemi’s next deal down to 85% of his $6.1 million 2021-22 cap hit. But enough with trying to break down the CBA as much as possible, what will Bergevin do?
It’s been reported that Bergevin is seriously considering not matching the offer, which would be the first successful offer sheet since the Edmonton Oilers acquired Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks back in 2007, a whole 14 years ago. Some people reading this might not have even been alive when that happened. So Bergevin certainly has the potential to do something relatively rare. I believe that he’ll end up matching the offer sheet, as I don’t think there is a centre on the market that fits in the lineup for the right price, especially not one that’s 21 years old.
The obvious options could be the Arizona Coyotes’ Christian Dvorak, the Calgary Flames’ Sean Monahan, the Washington Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov, and the big fish, the Buffalo Sabres’ prized possession, Jack Eichel. The first three may end up being a downgrade from Kotkaniemi, and I’m not sure Bergevin is ready to give up the assets required to meet Buffalo’s asking price for Eichel. So, if you don’t match and can’t find the right centre, walking into next season without someone in the middle of the second line is practically a death sentence. It’s the exact reason why I believe that the offer sheet will end up being matched.
Now, should the offer sheet be matched? Kotkaniemi isn’t entirely proven at the NHL level and was scratched multiple times last season. But the argument of Montreal’s necessity of a centre might overcome that combined with the extremely rich price tag, and they may be forced to cave in and overpay a bit. He has looked great in spurts and has the potential to be a solid top 6 centre but hasn’t had consistently good linemates or been able to produce with worse linemates. It’s possible that he could break out into something outstanding as soon as this season with the right-wingers, but is it very big, maybe worth $6.1 million? Would it make sense to potentially ruin your cap situation for now and for the future on something like this, or take the picks and go a different direction?
It’s a very tough decision, but at this moment, I would not match the offer sheet. The negative impact on the salary cap and being able to turn the picks into something better makes me think that this is the most favourable course of action.
For now, everything is just speculation. New information comes out daily, and my thoughts will change about 70 more times on whether Montreal should match or not over the next few days. Bergevin has himself a busy week, and we’ll all be watching closely to see what ends up happening.