The Carolina Hurricanes just threw a massive swerve into the NHL offseason by making a $6.1 million offer to Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He’s a restricted free agent of the Montreal Canadiens. The deal is only for one year, and the Hurricanes would have to give up a 1st and 3rd-round pick if the Canadiens decide not to match the deal. This is obviously all tied to the offer sheet the Canadiens sent to Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho two years ago as we could see with their petty Twitter posts.
Obviously, this made for a fun Saturday in the hockey world, but it could mean more than that for the New Jersey Devils.
This deal puts the Carolina Hurricanes about $1.5 million over the cap. This also puts the Montreal Canadiens in somewhat of a desperate position when it comes to their center position. The Devils aren’t trading away Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes. So no worries there, but what about Pavel Zacha?
Zacha really made strides last season. His offensive game took two or three steps in the right direction. Is he worth the sixth-overall pick? That still hasn’t been decided yet, but being such a high pick comes with its own value. The Canadiens are looking to make a splash, and Zacha is the type of player a team like the Canadiens could talk themselves into.
The Devils aren’t looking to move Zacha after his successful season, but his underlying numbers show he is a good “sell-high” candidate. Will he be able to grow from where he was last season? That’s not exactly a guarantee. Maybe the Devils could sell the Canadiens on Zacha’s performance and his ability to play power play, penalty kill, and a second-line center. He’s also defensively sound for the most part. This is something that will be important in the Canadiens system. The return would have to be somewhat significant, but the Canadiens now have two 1st-round picks in a very good draft.
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Zacha is also going into the final year of his contract, so the Devils will have yet another big deal to negotiate. Who knows what he is worth at this point. The last Zacha negotiation was contentious, and with his counting stats going up, this one might be even worse. It could be good to make that someone else’s problem when the price is still high.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes need to make a move to get under the salary. There is probably some long-term injured reserve nonsense they can pull to make it work, but the league will likely take a harder look at that in the future. The Devils could target winger Nino Niederreiter. That would be an awesome move to bring in a veteran who isn’t making too much money. We thought he would be a goner in the expansion draft, but the Seattle Kraken made some strange decisions. It’s likely the Canes wouldn’t ask for much since they were willing to lose him for free just over a month ago.
The Devils aren’t involved in this Hurricanes-Canadiens drama, but they could make themselves involved. It doesn’t have to be now, but in the next few weeks, it could be worth it for Tom Fitzgerald to come calling with a solution to both teams’ problems.