A timeline of the Canadiens and Hurricanes' sudden rivalry

CBC Sports' daily newsletter recounts the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes offer-sheet-fueled rivalry before they meet on the ice on Thursday night.

How offer sheets for Sebastian Aho and Jesperi Kotkaniemi sparked war

Kotkaniemi is still looking for his first point as a Hurricane. (Karl B DeBlaker/The Associated Press)

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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.

WATCH | Bell Centre fans boo returning Jesperi Kotkaniemi:

Habs fans boo Jesperi Kotkaniemi in his return to Montreal

2 years ago
Duration 0:38
Hurricanes forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi is booed by the Canadiens fans as he steps on the ice for the first time in Montreal since signing an offer sheet with Carolina during the off-season.

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.

Canadian Olympic men's hockey power rankings: Ep. 2

2 years ago
Duration 3:42
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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, 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.

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