Well, I told you guys, didn’t I? I said to “buckle up for July 1st.” Yesterday, the Montreal Canadiens became public enemy #1 in Raleigh, North Carolina when they tendered an offer sheet to restricted free agent, and Canes’ franchise cornerstone, Sebastian Aho. I wanted to offer up some commentary on the whole situation because this is the first time in six years we’ve seen an offer sheet signed. Below is the offer sheet.
Aho Offer Sheet Breakdown: 5 Years, $8.454 Million AAV
Year 1: $11.3M SB, $700k salary
Year 2: $9.87M SB, $700k salary
Year 3: $6.95 M SB, $750k salary
Year 4: $5.25 M SB, $750k salary
Year 5: $5.25 M SB, $750k salary
It’s a shame that it got to this point, but it wasn’t totally unavoidable. Aho’s contract was never going to be negotiated mid-season because he wanted his ceiling as high as possible. It’s my opinion that Montreal, in a way, did Carolina a favor. With this offer sheet, the negotiation process was expedited. I happen to think that ongoing, natural negotiations would have yielded Aho an even better deal. But he gets the term he wants right now, so why not sign the offer sheet if you’re him? Get it over with, right?
My instant reaction to the offer sheet news was that there was no chance that it was enough to pry Aho away from the Canes. This was a simple opportunity cost in which you weigh Aho’s production against a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick in the 2020 draft. The answer is Aho, and it’s not remotely close from the Canes perspective. Why take the picks when you just crushed the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and your farm team just won the Calder Cup? It just comes off as a weak offer in my opinion. The general consensus shared in this sentiment, too. So much so that the Canes’ social media team had some fun with the idea that we wouldn’t match the offer sheet.
Are you ready for the good news? The Canes have announced that they intend to match Montreal’s offer sheet! Sebastian Aho will be staying a Hurricane for the next five years!
With the offer sheet drama behind us, I got to questioning Montreal’s motives for even tendering this offer sheet. An attempt was made, but was an attempt really made? The contract was front heavy with bonuses, and that’s what Montreal was banking on to deter the Canes. However, it was a bullet the Canes’ front office had to bite. The contract steadily gets more team friendly, so that’s good news.
Was the goal here just to be a thorn in the Canes’ side? I just don’t see how it can be interpreted as anything other than that because the monetary value wasn’t where it could and should have been in my eyes. Montreal could use a center like Aho, but come on, if you’re going to offer sheet a first-line center, offer sheet a first-line center. It felt like a slap in the face to our ownership, management, and fan base.
From Montreal’s perspective, an $8.454M AAV feels like an undersell of what Aho brings to the table. To me, it felt like Montreal general manager, Marc Bergevin, came up with an offer sheet that would be perceived in the public eye as something that could only work on the Canes and Aho. He wouldn’t dare put something like this in front of Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, for example. He also had the nerve to say that Aho’s signing the offer sheet meant he “wanted to play in Montreal.”
It’s not that black and white, and that statement was a reach. Aho signed the offer sheet because he liked the terms, as any smart player would. Aho never gave any reason for Canes’ fans to think he wanted to go elsewhere. He has grown with this fan base. He just wanted his worth, and his signing the offer sheet said nothing more than he was willing to go to Montreal if that’s what it took. “Willing” is completely different from “burning desire to.”
There are certain aspects of this offer sheet that felt disrespectful, or at least I picked up on quite a bit of underlying animosity over the past twenty-four hours. A lot of tired narratives and old boys vs. new age hockey resurfaced yesterday. I know I’m not alone in the opinion that it felt like Montreal underestimated us. The Canes ran with it during the press conference. Canes General Manager, Don Waddell, joked that his summer got that much better with having one less contract negotiation. He joked that the Canes may wait the whole seven days to match just to keep Montreal in a financial bind like the one they perceive us to be in. But, they didn’t. They made their announcement just one day later. It might have been funny to keep us in limbo, but at the same time, it’d have stressed everyone involved too much.
Admittedly, I did worry that the Canes might drop the ball on Aho. Montreal was bold in tendering that offer sheet. If the Canes didn’t match it, everything built in the past year and a half was for nothing. The Eastern Conference Finals run, the Checkers’ Calder Cup win, the surge in youth hockey, the storm surges, the attendance boom, the incredible 2019 NHL Entry Draft performance, the new scoreboard, the new season ticket members, and all the way down to Tom Dundon’s initial purchase of the team. All of it would have been for nothing if they lost out on Sebastian Aho to a front-loaded offer sheet from an organization that thought they could submit a “small market” team with a singular, rare business transaction. The Canes knew this. Despite my concern on the surface, deep down I knew it would end up okay.
That sleep I lost while worrying about the doomsday scenario? I won’t get that back. The Canes, on the other hand, saved time and energy when Montreal decided to burst through the wall like the Kool-Aid man and interrupt seemingly normal contract negotiations.
In the end, it’s all evened out. The Canes will get to keep Aho. Stay buckled in, though. We’re only on day two of NHL free agency, and the Canes aren’t done yet. We’ve got a few other restricted free agents to take care of before next season rolls around!