Canadiens’ Bergevin must explore all options before matching Kotkaniemi offer

MONTREAL — We figure this was two years, 58 days and 22 hours in the making, and Tom Dundon’s currently kicking his heels up at Hurricanes headquarters and laughing his you-know-what off about it.

This dish—a one-year, $6.1-million offer sheet tendered to 21-year-old Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi—was served ice-cold on Saturday, with the heatwave in Montreal finally giving way hours earlier. In balmy Raleigh, N.C., the owner of the Hurricanes must’ve been cackling at the thought of Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin having to swallow every morsel of it.

It was on July 1, 2019 that Dundon was informed Bergevin had signed his future franchise player, Sebastian Aho, to a five-year, $42.27-million contract that would award Aho a $21-million bonus within the first calendar year of the new deal, and it was probably right then and there he decided he’d seek vengeance for it. There was nothing implicit or subtle about what Bergevin had done, making it immediately clear the Canadiens had calculated Dundon wasn’t willing to shell out all that cash right away given his reputation (honed over his first year-and-a-half operating the franchise) for being quite… frugal.

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Bergevin said it was just business, but it was clearly personal to Dundon, who, at the time, was estimated to be worth north of a billion dollars.

Dundon had seven days to match the Aho offer sheet—he used them and finally did—and he’s had every minute since to contemplate putting Bergevin in a similar vice.

Now that he’s done it, he also made sure to rub salt in the wound in the form of a $20 bonus (Aho’s jersey number) to Kotkaniemi and a statement from Hurricanes GM Don Waddell that mirrors the exact one Bergevin put out after signing Aho.

“Jesperi Kotkaniemi accepted our offer. He wants to come to Carolina,” said Waddell. “He sees the core we’ve built here and he wants to be a part of that. We’re proud, but there’s still a waiting period. When you make an offer like that, we saw a vulnerable position. The offer, with the compensation and the core we have, we realized that it was the best chance we had to get the player.”