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The Montreal Canadiens ended up with the better center

Holy hell has this been one emotional cluster of an offseason. And with less than 40 days from the start of the NHL season (FINALLY!), the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes have blessed us all with the pettiest of squabbles.

In a classic game of “I’m not touching you,” the Carolina Hurricanes have snagged 21-year-old restricted free agent Jesperi Kotkaniemi with a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet from the Canadiens. The whole situation is blatant retaliation for the Sebastian Aho offer sheet two seasons ago and Canes GM Don Waddell isn’t even trying to hide it.

👀 Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said the Kotkaniemi deal was 'all about the player' Do you believe him? — Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) September 5, 2021

Most of you know the story by now, so I won’t regurgitate information like a Mama bird. That’s not the point of this piece. The point is where the Montreal Canadiens are now as a team. By choosing to not match the offer sheet, the Canadiens were awarded a first and third-round pick from Carolina.

One of those picks was then used to acquire a superior centerman in Christian Dvorak.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

No one can fault Kotkaniemi for taking the offer, not the fans or his teammates. He made the smart career move, plain and simple. Plus, Marc Bergevin isn’t known for being overly generous with his funds.

The Canadiens (+125) are steamrolling the No. 1 seeded Flyers 👀 Max Domi picks up his third assist of the day on the Kotkaniemi goal. Montreal leads — The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) August 14, 2020

No, Kotkaniemi made the right move for Kotkaniemi and that’s fine. The same can be said for the Habs. The Hurricanes put Bergevin in a really tough predicament and instead of blinking, overpaying a young player, and then setting the team up for failure later, Bergevin let the former third-overall pick leave.

It was the correct business move.

Not quite ready to center

Looking at Kotkaniemi’s numbers, the young centerman has had a rough go so far. He’s failed to live up to his rookie campaign (again, so far) and was even a healthy scratch at moments during the recent run in Playoffs.

Advanced NHL career statisticsSeasonAgeTeamLgGPGAPTSSBAMISSTSASThr%FOWFOLFO%HITBLKTKGV2018-1918MTLNHL79112334134814626151.335942645.7664132502019-2019MTLNHL366285521118763.212516742.8511614212020-2120MTLNHL565152087472415855.126328647.98427332482 Game Avg.NHL82111930132713924354.535842245.996403846CareerNHL1712240622761498150654.574787945.9201847995

Provided by View Original Table Generated 9/8/2021.

His faceoff percentage might be the biggest concern. Your potential number two center can’t be that far below .500.

When Kotkaniemi was selected third overall in 2018, he wasn’t the best player on the board. Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes, and Joel Farabee are just a few players who were drafted behind him. The Habs went for positional need, a position he hasn’t played particularly well.

Canes fans need to understand that he won’t live up to the contract. He won’t. The sole purpose for this overpay was to pry him from Montreal, which it did. Now, he needs to show that he’s worth a first and third-round pick, and hope that Waddell extends a long-term contract in the $4 million range.

Change of position

Going into the acquisition, Waddell had made his interest in Kotkaniemi known, even attempting to strike up a trade. However, nothing serious manifested, which lead to the offer sheet. All the while, it was known that Waddell valued Kotkaniemi as a top-six “true center.” But then this happened:

Don Waddell says Jesperi Kotkaniemi will start at left wing with the @Canes — Eric Engels (@EricEngels) September 5, 2021

So why the change? James O’Brien of NBC Sports has one opinion: