A timeline of the Canadiens and Hurricanes' sudden rivalry
How offer sheets for Sebastian Aho and Jesperi Kotkaniemi sparked war
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An unlikely rivalry is renewed
Traditionally, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins are viewed as the Montreal Canadiens' biggest rivals.
But the Habs embarrassed the Leafs in the playoffs last season to put their Canadian neighbours out of mind. And they haven't played the Bruins since February 2020, thus putting them out of sight.
Enter the Carolina Hurricanes, whom the Canadiens host tonight at 7 p.m. ET. The pair have only squared off in two playoff series — a second-round battle in 2002 and a first-round matchup in 2006. Like the Bruins, the Canadiens haven't faced off against the 'Canes in two seasons.
And yet, Carolina might be the Habs' most hated team at the moment. Here's how that unlikely rivalry came to be:
July 1, 2019
Montreal signs Carolina forward Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet worth more than $42 million US over five years. Because Aho is a restricted free agent, Carolina has one week to either match the contract and keep their budding star, or lose him and accept three draft picks, including a first rounder, from Montreal.
"He wants to come to Montreal. He sees our youngsters coming up in the organization and he wants to be a part of that. We're proud, but there's still a waiting period," says Habs general manager Marc Bergevin.
"It's certainly a surprise — it's a surprise it wasn't more," responds Hurricanes GM Don Waddell.
NHL team executives famously hate offer sheets, and rarely sign them for fear of retribution. The last time a player changed teams through restricted free agency was when forward Dustin Penner leapt from Anaheim to Edmonton in 2007 — a move which led to then-Ducks GM Brian Burke challenging then-Oilers GM Kevin Lowe to a barn fight.
July 8, 2019
The Hurricanes match the contract to keep Aho.
"There was no concern at any point that we would not be able to match this contract. Once again, the Carolina Hurricanes should not be underestimated. We have a plan and all the resources to win a Stanley Cup," Waddell says.
The pure contempt in that quote leaps off the screen, but that appears to be the end of the saga. The teams have played each other three times since, with nothing notable occurring.
Aug. 28, 2021
The roles are suddenly reversed as the Hurricanes agree to a one-year, $6,100,015 offer sheet with Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The 21-year-old Finn was drafted third overall by Montreal in 2018, but hadn't quite met expectations with 62 points in parts of three seasons. He was a healthy scratch for the final game of the Habs' Stanley Cup loss to the Lightning.
Waddell then releases a familiar statement: "He wants to come to Carolina. 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."
And that wasn't the only shot at the Habs. The 15 at the end of the contract? That's Kotkaniemi's number. There was a $20 (yes, just $20) signing bonus representing Aho's number. Oh, and the Hurricanes tweeted about the signing in French.
Apparently, sparring through minor contract details, loaded quotes and social media is the 2021 version of a barn fight.
Sept. 4, 2021
The Canadiens choose not to match the offer sheet, instead gaining first- and third-round picks from Carolina. They promptly flip the first to Arizona for centre Christian Dvorak. A day later, Waddell claims the move was purely about the player — nothing to do with revenge.
He may not have been lying. Giving a player deemed unworthy of even dressing for a Stanley Cup Final game more than $6 million probably doesn't make a ton of sense, but the Hurricanes knew Montreal was tight against the salary cap, and they'll hold Kotkaniemi's rights as a restricted free agent in the coming off-season.
On the ice, Kotkaniemi still holds pedigree as a former top pick, and Montreal was criticized for bringing him to the NHL too quickly. The Hurricanes' forward depth — including Aho — is enough that Kotkaniemi can be sheltered defensively while producing on offence.
Conversely, Kotkaniemi might just be what he is: a third-liner capable of contributing from time to time. He's been held off the scoresheet through two games in Carolina. The Canadiens, meanwhile, have scored just three goals during their 0-4 start.
One final footnote: The Canadiens reportedly notified the NHL last month that the Hurricanes weren't playing the mandatory six pre-season games. As it turns out, they had been granted a pandemic-related exemption. Still, the dislike is evident.
Tonight, we'll see if the management fight spills onto the ice. At the very least, Kotkaniemi can expect to be greeted by Habs fans with a chorus of boos.
The Raptors' homecoming was a dud. The team seemed overmatched against a Washington Wizards squad it was favoured to beat, and instead lost by 15. The Raptors' offence was nowhere to be found, as evidenced by the team's leading scorers tying for a measly 12 points (VanVleet on 5/20 shooting, rookie Scottie Barnes on 5/13 shooting). OG Anunoby made just three of his 17 shot attempts. The best moment of the game came at the end of the third quarter, when Dalano Banton of Rexdale, Ont., entered the court for his NBA debut and almost immediately nailed a half-court buzzer-beater for his first career points. Watch that shot and read more about the game here.
Canada's men's soccer team is up to 48th in FIFA rankings. Thanks to its successful World Cup qualifying run thus far and an 11-2-4 record on the year, Canada cracked the top-50 for the first time since 1996, when it rose all the way to a best-ever ranking of 40th. Forty-eight isn't just a number, either — placing inside the top 50 makes it easier for players to obtain work permits to play professionally in the United Kingdom, a worldwide hub of soccer. Canada returns to the pitch for two World Cup qualifying games against No. 9 Mexico and No. 45 Costa Rica in Edmonton next month. Read more about the latest batch of rankings here.
The NFL is ending a racist practice that may have cost retired Black players millions. The use of "race-norming" assumes Black players start with a lower cognitive function, making it harder to show they suffer from mental deficits such as dementia later in life as a result of their playing days and thus preventing them from earning financial awards from the league. As part of a $1 billion concussion settlement on Wednesday, the league agreed to stop race-based brain testing and is allowing Black retirees to be reassessed. Read more about the settlement here.
Coming up on CBC Sports
Gymnastics world championships: Canada sent its senior men's team and a developmental women's team to the meet in Japan. The lone Olympian on the squad is Rene Cournoyer, who failed to qualify for any finals at Tokyo 2020. Russia's Angelina Melnikova won the women's all round title on the first day of finals. Action on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem continues Friday at 4:55 a.m. ET with the men's all round finals.
Squash: The Canadian national championships run through the weekend in Toronto at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Watch all the action here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.