In this week’s edition of Montreal Canadiens news and rumors, the Carolina Hurricanes have put the Habs in quite the predicament with their signed offer sheet to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Carey Price should be ready for training camp and Ryan Poehling signs a new deal.
Plus, Montreal releases its preseason schedule and France Margaret Bélanger gets a historic promotion within the organization.
Will They Match or Won’t They?
It was shaping up to be a rather tame news and rumors post this week until the Hurricanes dropped the bombshell news on Saturday night that they have tendered an offer sheet to Kotkaniemi. The Habs now have until next Saturday to decide if they will match the one-year, $6.1 million deal. Carolina reportedly tried to trade for the 21-year-old before going the offer sheet route, but the two teams couldn’t find common ground.
This offer sheet is compelling for many reasons. There’s obviously the revenge factor after general manager Marc Bergevin signed Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet two summers ago which the Hurricanes matched. The trolling on social media and the $20 signing bonus included in the contract made for some good weekend entertainment.
Now the question is, will the Habs match the offer sheet knowing that Kotkaniemi, selected third overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, is not worth $6.1 million right now and that they will have to issue him the same qualifying offer next season, essentially messing with their entire salary cap structure? At the same time, losing Kotkaniemi for less than he’s worth (a first and a third-round pick) when they are already thin at centre after losing Phillip Danault in free agency would be a tough pill to swallow.
There’s no doubt that Bergevin will explore every option before making his decision. He’ll explore the trade market to see if he can find a top-six centre using his two first-round picks as leverage. Names being floated around as possible targets include Christian Dvorak, Evgeny Kuznetsov and of course, Jack Eichel. Or perhaps he’ll even look at upgrading at another position. He mentioned a few weeks ago that he would like to add a puck-moving defenseman.
Carolina knew this offer would be tough for the Canadiens to match and they pounced on the opportunity to paint them into a corner. Now Bergevin has to decide if Kotkaniemi’s upside is worth the gamble he’s being forced to take.
Ryan Poehling Inks a New Deal
Poehling, the player who could be most impacted by the Habs’ decision on Kotkaniemi, signed a two-year extension with the team earlier this week. The first year is a two-way deal and the second is an NHL, one-way deal carrying an average annual value of $750,000.
The 22-year-old, a first-round selection of the Canadiens in 2017, led the Laval Rocket in scoring this season with 25 points in 28 games at the AHL level. He has also appeared in 28 career NHL games with Montreal.
Poehling seemed NHL ready last season and may very well make the opening night roster in 2021-22. Depending on what happens with Kotkaniemi, he might be given a bigger opportunity than originally anticipated.
Carey Price Should Be Ready for Training Camp
Speaking at his charity golf tournament, head coach Dominique Ducharme indicated that Price should be ready for the start of training camp next month after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason, an injury that compelled he and Bergevin to leave him exposed for the Seattle Expansion Draft to avoid losing Jake Allen.
“We expect him back at the start of training camp. He’s been in Montreal for a few days. I should get more news about his status next week. We expect him to join the team fairly quickly at the start of camp,” Ducharme said.
This is good news for the Habs because the initial fear was that he could be sidelined for a lot longer.
Ducharme also mentioned that captain Shea Weber would like to be around the team as much as possible this season even though he won’t play due to injury.
The Canadiens will play six preseason games beginning September 25 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They will face the Leafs and Ottawa Senators three times each before opening the regular season on October 13 in Toronto.
Meanwhile, the Habs’ rookie camp will get underway on September 15. They will play the Senators’ rookies in Ottawa on September 18 and in Montreal as well. The team’s annual golf tournament will be held on September 21, the day before training camp opens.
A Historic Promotion for France Margaret Bélanger
France Margaret Bélanger has been appointed to the position of President, Sports and Entertainment of Groupe CH by Canadiens owner Geoff Molson.
Bélanger joined the organization in 2013 as Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer and has taken on several different roles since.
She is the first woman to serve on the executive committee of the Montreal Canadiens in its 104-year history. She also serves, alongside Molson, as an NHL Alternate Governor for the Canadiens. In 2020, she was chosen by Commissioner Gary Bettman to sit on the NHL Executive Inclusion Council.
What’s Next for the Canadiens?
It’s going to feel like a long week as we wait for the Kotkaniemi decision to come down and the fallout that ensues from it. Bergevin always says to expect the unexpected, so don’t be alarmed if he surprises us yet again over the next little while as he attempts to improve and finalize his roster for the upcoming season amid a bit of chaos, which really is nothing new for him.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media Community Manager and a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.