If Montreal fans boo Jesperi Kotkaniemi, it’s not his fault. It’s Marc Bergevin’s

·3 min read

Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s return to Montreal turns a new page in the latest chapter of this suddenly very heated rivalry. Whatever abuse or approbation he receives from the fans he spurned, it’s important to remember this isn’t his fault.

He took the money and the opportunity to exit a situation that no longer worked for him. We should all be so lucky.

Nor is this entirely the fault of the Carolina Hurricanes, as much as they unquestionably stoked the fires with the impossibly snarky social-media campaign that surrounded the offer-sheet poaching of Kotkaniemi from the Canadiens. That inevitably raised the temperature of their first visit to Montreal, which just happened to be in their third game of the season Thursday against a Canadiens team that lost its first four games.

They won the battle and salted the earth, but they did not start the war.

Everything the Hurricanes did that so assaulted the tender sensibilities of certain Montrealers was in response to the original sin of Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. And not the offer sheet for Sebastian Aho — that was fair game after the Hurricanes let negotiations linger too long with their star player — but Bergevin’s not-so-thinly-veiled shots at the entire Hurricanes franchise.

“Sebastian Aho accepted our offer. He wants to come to Montreal,” Bergevin said in 2019. “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.”

Bergevin wasn’t taking a shot at Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon there. The structure of the offer sheet did that. Everything he said was targeted at the Hurricanes franchise and what it stands for, the absurdity of the mere thought that a player would choose to play for the Hurricanes when playing for the Canadiens was an option. He was throwing red meat to his own frustrated fans.

There’s no question some of the offer-sheet sparring between the teams has been a micturating match among multibillionaires, but the Aho offer sheet spoke for itself. Bergevin spoke for himself.

“He wants to be a part of that” was quite the turn of phrase during a summer after the Hurricanes beat out the Canadiens for a playoff spot and proceeded to knock off the defending champs on their way to the conference finals. Never mind that it made no sense to join the “youngsters coming up” in Montreal when Carolina’s youngsters were already there and contributing.

It was all as gratuitous as it was, everyone knew then, false.

Bergevin could have played it straight back in 2019, but he had to get his shots in, and turnabout turned out to be fair play in l’affaire offre hostile.

The reality, as anyone with a functioning brain knew, was not only that the Hurricanes would match the offer sheet for Aho despite the front-loaded bonus structure pandering to Dundon’s perceived parsimony, but that Aho and his agent were using Bergevin for leverage.

The offer sheet merely settled the matter. Only Bergevin acted like it was anything but.

The Hurricanes then waited two years to offer-sheet Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who did want to come to Carolina. Beyond the pettiness (and there was a lot of pettiness) it was a smart hockey move to get a player the Hurricanes had long admired.

Bergevin’s aggrandized superiority eventually came back to bite him, and he had notably less to say this time around when the Hurricanes cut-and-pasted Bergevin’s own quotes back at him.

Thursday night will be interesting, but not the first interesting visit the Hurricanes have made to the Bell Centre. There’s bad blood here that dates back to 2002 and 2006 and even beyond, to the Hartford days. It didn’t start with the offer sheets, but to whatever degree the ante has been upped, Bergevin brought that upon himself. That should not be visited upon Kotkaniemi.

Bergevin lit the fuse.

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