Well, it’s been a ride.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is officially headed to the Carolina Hurricanes, after the Montreal Canadiens announce that they will not be matching the offer sheet tendered by their Southern rivals last Saturday afternoon.
The 6’2″, 201lb centre, drafted 3rd overall in 2018, takes his talents to a team that plans to contend this season (despite some questionable offseason moves, frankly, including this one), and leaves a team that already had massive question marks at the centre ice position before this offer sheet was tendered and signed.
How did we get here?
Kotkaniemi’s young career was marked by some extreme highs, and some rather extreme lows. Almost nobody expected him to be drafted 3rd overall in 2018, but he was the consensus best centreman in a weak draft at the position. The Habs stayed true to form by drafting for need. Debates raged since that night about the players they left on the board: Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes, and Filip Zadina. While it’s still too early to definitively say who will have the better career, it’s clear that the Kotkaniemi selection was an abject failure.
If you’re going to draft for need and select a very young, lanky centreman at 3rd overall – make sure he has what he needs to develop and succeed. Kotkaniemi had a great training camp and earned a spot on the roster. But the fairytale ended there. The team failed to show him trust. They failed to give him consistent linemates and minutes. They benched him in the most crucial games of the year, undeservedly so.
And now, he’s gone.
This saga leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many Habs fans, who on one end of the spectrum, hated the pick since the beginning, and on the other side, spent a lot of energy defending the pick and the kid for 3 years. It leaves many of us wondering how they will handle the plethora of talented prospects in the pipeline.
Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are largely products of their own brilliance. No one was going to stop them from reaching their potential. The same can’t be said about most prospects, who need to be properly developed over several years to have a chance at stardom. As things stand, trust in the Canadiens’ development system is all but eroded after this debacle.
Will Kotkaniemi end up being the player we hoped he would be outside of the Montreal fish bowl? That remains to be seen. What is likely a late 1st and 3rd round pick as compensation for the offer sheet is nowhere near the return one would expect for a 21 year old 3rd overall pick.
While the offer sheet was certainly revenge on the part of Tom Dundon and Don Waddell for the failed offer sheet to Sebastian Aho in 2019, it was a much more calculated move than Marc Bergevin’s. The $6.1 million contract for 1 year threw Bergevin’s cap structure out the window and forced him to reckon with his failure to turn Kotkaniemi into a player worth paying for at this juncture. So while we see why he could not match, Bergevin is entirely to blame for getting us to a point where Carolina could bully him into losing a top asset for pennies on the dollar.
Marc Bergevin is in the last year of his contract as General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens. And it should be his last.
It’s time for a fresh vision. The pieces are there – the organization needs a new captain to steer the ship back to glory.