MONTREAL— It was short and bittersweet, delivered 15 minutes shy of a full week that started with Jesperi Kotkaniemi signing a $6.1-million offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes, and it was understated.
The Montreal Canadiens announced on Saturday they were walking away from the player they drafted third overall in 2018 and taking Carolina’s first- and third-round picks in the 2022 Draft for doing so, and general manager Marc Bergevin’s 18-word concession read, “Carolina has used a tool available to them in the collective bargaining agreement and we accept that decision.”
It was akin to a golf clap for a slam dunk, because the Hurricanes didn’t just “use a tool available to them” so much as they masterfully wielded it. They painted Bergevin into a corner and forced him to choose between overpaying Kotkaniemi and overpaying to replace him. They did it to avenge the offer sheet Bergevin tendered to Sebastian Aho in 2019, with Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon working a cheeky $20 signing bonus and tacking $15 onto Kotkaniemi’s salary as odes to Aho and Kotkaniemi’s respective jersey numbers before authorizing the team’s social media accounts to rub coarse salt in the wound, and they got what they wanted out of it.
First off, the Hurricanes got the player. If they didn’t want Kotkaniemi, they wouldn’t have offered to pay him close to three times what he was likely to earn this coming season.
“Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a player who has been on our radar since before his draft year,” said Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell in a statement that followed Bergevin’s announcement the Canadiens weren’t matching the offer. “We believe he will flourish in Rod Brind’Amour’s system and culture, and he will be an important piece of what we are building in Carolina for years to come.”
But even if that proves untrue, the Hurricanes still forced Bergevin to give up on one of the players he said he hoped to build around for years to come—a player his team developed over 200 games (regular season and post-season combined)—and they pushed him to give up more than he’d have liked to in a corresponding trade with the Arizona Coyotes. There’s no debating that’s a win for them.
But it’s not a total loss for Bergevin and the Canadiens. In fact, it could prove to be a win.
Sure, the price was steep to acquire 25-year-old Christian Dvorak from the Coyotes, but it was worth it. In the 25-year-old, the Canadiens have gained a versatile player who’s accumulated nearly a half-a-point per game over his first 302 in the NHL and done so on a team lacking the type of talent on the wings the Canadiens currently boast. They’ve given up on the better of their two first-round picks (their own or Carolina’s) in the 2022 Draft and their own second-rounder in 2024 to do it, but they’re also getting a player who’s better than Kotkaniemi is right now.
Dvorak, who makes $4.45 million per season, has also already proven he’s worth what he’s being paid, and he’s got an opportunity to prove he’ll be more valuable than Kotkaniemi over the four seasons he remains under contract—especially if Kotkaniemi remains locked in at the $6.1 million he needs to be qualified at as a restricted free agent, but even so if he signs an extension at a lower average salary.
Dvorak’s a player we’ve been digging into since well before his acquisition was made by the Canadiens and well before we reported earlier this week that he was their primary target to replace Kotkaniemi. The impetus for that was when former teammate Max Domi (who was traded to the Canadiens for another former third-overall pick, Alex Galchenyuk) told us, shortly after arriving in Montreal in 2018, he felt Dvorak was among the most underrated players in the league.
Domi had played alongside Dvorak and watched him score 109 points with the OHL’s London Knights in 2014-15. He made the jump with the Coyotes while Dvorak stayed behind and put up 52 goals and 121 points in 59 games the following season, and then he revelled in the opportunity to once again play with Dvorak when he graduated to the NHL for the 2016-17 season.
What we’ve seen since Domi told us about him is a strong, two-way centre who’s effective in the slot on the power play and capable as a penalty killer.
Dvorak has also proven to be nearly as efficient scoring goals as he has been at setting them up—he’s got 67 goals and 79 assists since debuting—and he’s won between 51.4 per cent and 55.3 per cent of his faceoffs in each of his last four seasons.
An Eastern Conference executive told us this past Wednesday that he felt Dvorak was unquestionably a second-line centre on a good team and added, “If that guy’s centering your third line, you’re contending for a Stanley Cup.”
A Western-based scout sung the Illinois native’s praises when we touched base with him two hours after Saturday’s news broke.
“I know the player really, really well,” the scout started. “I’ve watched him play a ton over the years. The one thing about him that people probably don’t know is he’s a very competitive, quiet sort of leadership guy. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that because he’s quiet, but he’s very competitive. He’s not going to play necessarily with tons of physicality, but he’s got a lot of jam, and he’ll go to the net and he’ll take a punch in front of the net if he has to.
“He’s also got really, really good hands. He doesn’t get enough credit for how good his hands are. And lastly, he’s an outstanding kid. I know you hear that about a lot of guys, but he’s a hockey player. He loves the game and he’s a very hard worker.”
We’re talking about the overall profile of a player Kotkaniemi might become, but not the one he’s been for the majority of his time in Montreal.
The Pori, Finland native accumulated just 22 goals and 62 points in 171 regular-season games with the Canadiens, with totals of five and 20 in 56 this past season, and he bookended their run from the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Final as a healthy scratch despite scoring five goals and eight points in 19 games.
When Bergevin was asked afterwards if he was prepared to commit to Kotkaniemi as his second-line centre for this coming season, he essentially said he only would as a last resort.
“As a player, we love KK’s potential, we love the peak of his game,” Bergevin said before attributing Kotkaniemi’s inconsistency to his youth and saying he’d ideally be able to better insulate him by acquiring another experienced centre.
But the GM also acknowledged he’d have a hard time doing that with the salary cap stagnating for years to come and Kotkaniemi and other young players on the Canadiens inevitably earning bigger paycheques. “I need to be careful,” he said.
The Hurricanes had no such restriction.
They’ve taken a massive gamble on Kotkaniemi’s potential, but one they’re comfortable with. They have the money to pay him, the depth to insulate him, and they have made him feel wanted and trusted and will give him a good opportunity to perform at his best.
If it doesn’t work and they end up signing and trading Kotkaniemi, or walking away from him after one season, they’ll have lost the money they’ve signed him for and the picks they surrendered to the Canadiens, and that won’t be a great look. But it won’t be a complete loss, either, after having successfully pulled one over on Bergevin and obtained the vengeance they were after.
As for the Montreal GM, he took his licks and moved on quickly and quietly after the Hurricanes yucked it up at his expense.
But Bergevin might be laughing hardest when all is said and done here.
Lululemon named official Canadian outfitter for next four Olympics | Offside – Daily Hive
Lululemon will be officially heading to the Olympics.
The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees announced Thursday a partnership with the Canadian clothing brand Lululemon, making it the country’s official outfitter of Team Canada for the next four Olympics.
“As a Canadian and lifelong fan of the Games, I could not be prouder for Lululemon to partner with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee,” said Calvin McDonald, the CEO of Lululemon in a release. “Supporting these incredible athletes as they prepare to compete on the world’s largest sporting stage is a privilege. Through this partnership, all of us at Lululemon are honoured to play our part to inspire, unite and transform the world through sport and share in this excitement alongside all of Canada.”
A small selection of Lululemon Olympic apparel is available online and in-store already, with more to be revealed next month.
The partnership will start at the Beijing 2022 Games, continuing through 2024 in Paris, 2026 in Milan, and 2028 in Los Angeles.
This replaces the Hudson’s Bay partnership that first began in Torino 2006 and expired after Tokyo 2020.
While it’s Lululemon’s first official Olympic partnership, they actually launched a collection that appeared to be heavily inspired by Vancouver 2010.
— Zarah Al-Kudcy (@zalkudcy) July 28, 2016
San Jose Sharks open training camp without Evander Kane amid NHL investigation – ESPN
The Sharks took the ice for the first time this season Thursday, a day after Kane was cleared by the NHL of gambling allegations. But with the league still looking into allegations of physical and sexual abuse made by his estranged wife, Kane and the Sharks decided he will not take part in practice until further notice.
“It’s not ideal, but there is an ongoing investigation from the NHL,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “The focus has to be on our group here, the guys that are here today and the things that we can control, but also respect the process of dealing with some very serious allegations and some things that need to be addressed with the right process.”
The Kane saga has been hanging over the Sharks for weeks after Anna Kane alleged in an Instagram post this summer that Kane bet on NHL games and was “obviously throwing games to win money.”
That launched a probe by the league, and the NHL said Wednesday there was no evidence to back up those charges and that the investigation “raises doubts about the veracity of the allegations.”
But Anna Kane also made additional allegations this week of sexual and physical abuse in a restraining order application filed in Santa Clara County Family Court.
Kane’s attorney denied those charges, but the team said it came to an agreement with Kane that he won’t participate in camp until further notice while the league looks into the allegations.
None of the players made available to the media would comment on the specifics.
“No one knew about anything and no one still knows about anything,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said. “We’re here to focus on the things that we can control and everything other than that is out of our hands.”
There was also a report this offseason from The Athletic that there was a rift between Kane and his teammates, many of whom don’t want him back on the team.
Kane’s teammates said any issues would be dealt with privately in the dressing room and they were happy with the mindset of the group that was on hand for the start of camp.
“I thought today was a real good day,” captain Logan Couture said. “When you get to the rink, you show up, you play hockey, you work hard. You play for the guy next to you. Everyone that’s here is proud to be a San Jose Shark and we want to win for this organization.”
Kane’s absence will be felt on the ice as he was the team’s most consistent forward last season, when he led the Sharks with 22 goals and 49 points.
If Kane can’t play, San Jose will have a hard time reversing the dramatic fall the team has taken the past two seasons after making it to the Western Conference finals in 2019.
“We all just play,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “It’s no different than anything else. At the end of the day, we just make coffee in the morning, come to the rink, get ready to play and you do it. I don’t think it’s any different than guys getting hurt, not being there for lineup. We don’t worry about that stuff. We can’t. There’s too much other stuff.”
The Sharks finished last in the Western Conference in 2019-20 — firing coach Peter DeBoer in December — and they took only small steps forward last season when they finished near the bottom of the West Division with 49 points in the first full season under Boughner.
They made few big moves in the offseason outside of buying out ineffective goalie Martin Jones, acquiring Adin Hill from Arizona in a trade and signing James Reimer for a second stint with the organization. The Sharks’ .891 save percentage over the past three seasons is the lowest in the NHL.
They also added some depth forwards in Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano, but there will still be questions about whether there’s enough firepower on the top two lines, which will be an even greater concern if Kane doesn’t play.
Canadian Hubbard replaces injured McCaffrey as Panthers beat Texans – Sportsnet.ca
HOUSTON — Thanks to another efficient performance from Sam Darnold and continued dominant play by their defense, the Carolina Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2015, when they reached the Super Bowl.
That combination was certainly too much for the Houston Texans in Carolina’s 24-9 victory on Thursday night. But a hamstring injury to star running back Christian McCaffrey could cause serious adversity for Darnold and the Panthers’ offense going forward.
“Losing Christian is tough, but I thought we did a great job of bouncing back,” Darnold said. “We were able to put the first half behind us and do a good job in the second half.”
Canadian rookie Chuba Hubbard replaced McCaffrey. The native of Sherwood Park, Alta., finished with 11 carries for 52 yards and added three catches for 27 yards.
Darnold threw for 304 yards and ran for two touchdowns as the Panthers eased past the Texans despite losing McCaffrey early in the second quarter.
“In the second half we trusted Sam,” coach Matt Rhule said. “We were throwing more verticals and pushing the ball down the field.”
Carolina’s top-ranked defense put the squeeze on Houston rookie Davis Mills in his first career start, sacking him four times and holding him to 168 yards passing. Mills was pressed into action after Tyrod Taylor suffered a hamstring injury last Sunday and was placed on injured reserve.
The Panthers have allowed 573 yards and totaled 14 sacks in three games.
Darnold topped 300 yards passing for the second straight game as he continues to revitalize his career with the Panthers after being cast aside by the New York Jets.
McCaffrey came in leading the league in scrimmage yards, the same thing he did in the 2019 season. But he missed all but three games in 2020 with various injuries as the Panthers sputtered to 5-11 in Rhule’s first year.
Rhule said McCaffrey had a strained hamstring.
“I don’t know the severity level of it yet, to be quite honest with you,” Rhule said. “But I knew the minute it happened I said: `Hey, he’s out for the game.’ That’s all I knew. I saw him in there, and he’s moving around, but it’s a wait and see.”
Darnold rushed for Carolina’s first score in the first quarter and put the game away when he bulled in from 1 yard out to make it 24-9 with about four minutes left, losing his helmet in the process.
Mills threw for a touchdown and avoided big mistakes after he threw an interception in the second half of Sunday’s loss at Cleveland. But the Texans (1-2) couldn’t run the ball, finishing with 42 yards on the ground, and that forced Mills into tough down-and-distance situations as Houston punted six times.
“We just weren’t very good on offense tonight … because we weren’t able to run the ball,” Texans coach David Culley said.
Mills’ favorite target was Brandin Cooks, who had nine receptions for 112 yards.
“I thought he was great,” Cooks said of the rookie. “He handled himself well.”
Darnold’s 5-yard run put the Panthers ahead early and McCaffrey was injured on Carolina’s next drive. Hubbard was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Houston 5 to end that possession.
Hubbard, a fourth-round pick from Oklahoma State, finished with 11 carries for 52 yards and three receptions for 27 yards.
Anthony Miller grabbed a 1-yard touchdown pass about 30 seconds before halftime, but Joey Slye missed the extra point. Miller made his debut with the Texans after he missed the first two games with a shoulder injury.
Tommy Tremble dashed untouched into the end zone from 7 yards out to put Carolina ahead 14-6 in the third quarter. The teams traded field goals before Darnold’s short rush on third-and-goal capped a 12-play drive that put it away.
Carolina rookie CB Jaycee Horn, the eighth overall pick in the draft, suffered broken bones in his right foot, Rhule said. … Panthers S Juston Burris pulled a groin muscle and Rhule said he would miss some time.
HE SAID IT
“We just didn’t execute. We missed tackles. They were just making plays they were supposed to make and we weren’t making plays we were supposed to make.” — Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey.
Carolina visits Dallas on Oct. 3.
Houston visits Buffalo on Oct. 3.
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