Sebastian Aho will not become a member of the Montreal Canadiens. At least for the next year.
On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that they would be matching the offer sheet that Aho signed with the Canadiens on the opening day of NHL free agency. The team had seven days to make a decision, and they only needed one.
“This was an easy decision,” said Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell in a statement. “Sebastian is one of the best players in the league and the centerpiece of what we’re building here. We’ve spoken to him throughout this process and he’s made it clear that he wants to be in Raleigh and be a part of this organization.
“It’s our job to manage our cap space as our players develop and hit free agency. 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.”
[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]
The five-year deal carrying an $8.454 million average annual value was designed creatively in hopes that the Hurricanes would not match. According to Pierre LeBrun, Aho, who will become an unrestricted free agent when the contract expires, is due $21.87 million in signing bonuses over the next year with a salary of $700,000 in the first two seasons and $750,000 in the final three. Per the terms of an offer sheet, he’s not eligible to be dealt for 12 months.
Had the Hurricanes not matched the offer, the Canadiens would have sent them a first-round pick, second-round pick and third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft as compensation.
“We’re surprised. We love the player and we’re happy to have this done. And surprised someone would have thought this would work,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon told the News and Observer. “We were never going to let him go. He didn’t want to go. This is just part of the business of getting the deal done. I said the day I bought the team and nothing has changed, he’s one of if not the most important part of our future and we’re lucky to have him.”
Waddell, who said on Monday he was surprised the offer sheet wasn’t larger, played coy a bit when asked how long he’d take to decide. While the Hurricanes’ release announced their “intention” to match, they could still take the full period to officially do so and hand over that signing bonus to Aho. This at least allows Bergevin and the Canadiens to know that the cap space they were saving for Aho is now free to be spent. They cannot, however, attempt another offer sheet until this matter is officially resolved.
By the way, the Canadiens visit the Hurricanes on Oct. 3 in Raleigh.
MORE: What should Habs do if they don’t get Aho?
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.