What should Habs do if they don’t get Aho?

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(UPDATE: The Hurricanes will be matching the offer sheet for Aho.)

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin caused quite a stir on Monday when he submitted an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent Sebastian Aho. But what’s next? Well, the Habs just have to sit and wait for the ‘Canes to make a decision.

What happens if the Hurricanes decide to match the Canadiens’ five-year, $42.27 million offer for Aho? What does Bergevin do next? Can he still make a move or two this week? There’s so many questions that need to be answered.

Before the offer sheet was signed, the Habs had $11.806 million in cap space. If Carolina doesn’t match, Montreal will have $3.352 million in cap space remaining, but CBA rules allow teams to spend 10 percent above the cap until the start of the upcoming season. So if Bergevin wants to dip his toe into the free-agent waters while waiting for a decision on Aho, he can do it but it doesn’t sound like he wants to.

“Like you mentioned, (other) guys are getting signed. But you can’t when you have that cap space tied up, you can’t go out and spend it and then you get the player and then you’re in that position,” Bergevin said on Monday, per the Montreal Gazette. “So you need to be smart. And that’s the risk we take. Yeah, the chair’s going to be gone by the time … but that’s the business we’re in. But we felt even though if it doesn’t happen we still have a very good hockey team.”

And whether they get Aho or not, the Canadiens still have needs.

They have to find a left-handed puck-moving defenseman that’s capable of playing next to captain Shea Weber. Many have linked Jake Gardiner to the Habs but that hasn’t happened yet. Gardiner would command about $6 million or $7 million per year, which Montreal could easily digest if they don’t get Aho. Will Gardiner still be around in a week? Probably not.

They could also look to make a trade for a left-handed blueliner. T.J. Brodie‘s name has been out there over the last few weeks. Could they figure out a way to get him out of Calgary? That’s entirely possible. Whether it’s Brodie, Gardiner or someone else, Bergevin has to find a way to improve the left side of his defense. That’s the most pressing need after adding some scoring.

As much as Bergevin says he likes his roster, he can’t deny that improvements will have to be made if they’re going to make the playoffs. The Canadiens missed the postseason by a point in 2018-19, and outside of adding goaltender Keith Kinkaid, and trading Andrew Shaw and Nicholas Deslauriers, they haven’t done much to tweak the roster.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Non-playoff teams like the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers have all made significant acquisitions to bolster their teams. Can the Habs sneak into the postseason without making at least one major move?

Clearly, they liked Aho and felt like they could put Carolina in a difficult spot with their creative, signing-bonus heavy offer. It was a great and aggressive idea, but one that’s not guaranteed to work out in their favor.

“I looked at the options, what was available, and that’s what as an organization we looked at the closest and we identified that Sebastian Aho was the player,” Bergevin said. “And then, after the window opened, we were able to talk and he wanted to be here in Montreal. He agreed to this, he believed it’s a really good offer for him and he wants to be part of the Montreal Canadiens.”

Here’s the biggest question for Montreal right now: Would they extend an offer sheet to a second player if they don’t get Aho?

Could they go after Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning? They’ve made it clear that they’d prefer going the RFA route, so could he be an option? This would be a different kind of offer sheet, but one that could still put the Tampa Bay Lightning in a tough situation. The Bolts have the hard cash to pay Point, but it’s the cap space that they’re lacking. Would Point even be willing to leave Tampa for Montreal? That’s a different story altogether.

For now, all Montreal can do is wait.

MORE: Canadiens sign Sebastian Aho to offer sheet

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Panthers offer Sarah Nurse deal to lead girls hockey program

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are trying to sign a high-scoring forward who has an Olympic gold medal and two world championships, with hopes of getting the deal done in the coming days.

If it happens, she won’t be playing for the Panthers.

Sarah Nurse, the Canadian forward who had a highlight-reel goal against the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin during the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition, has the chance to run the Panthers’ new program designed to get more girls playing hockey.

Florida president Matthew Caldwell offered the job to Nurse publicly – very publicly, at a lectern, with a microphone, before a crowd of onlookers. And he was serious.

“I’m going to embarrass you, but we’re going to offer you a job today,” Caldwell told Nurse, who was seated in the crowd. “We want you to be the face of our girls program at the War Memorial. So, are you in? On the spot? We don’t deal with agents, OK. I’m a tough negotiator.”

The idea to hire Nurse was first floated to Caldwell by Melissa Fitzgerald. She’s the general manager for the War Memorial, which is the two-rink facility being refurbished by the team and will become its practice headquarters.

“We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks,” Caldwell told The Associated Press. “Our youth hockey team kind of brought it up as a joke to me, but I said, `Let’s think big. We’re building this huge facility. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”‘

The only part Caldwell was less than serious about with Nurse was how the Panthers don’t deal with agents. He spoke with Nurse’s representative, Thomas Houlton, after the event.

Houlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and Caldwell spoke for about 15 minutes after the event, which was attended by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Panthers stars Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk, and dozens of kids who got to play ball hockey afterward.

Nurse played for Canada’s world-champion teams in 2021 and 2022, along with Canada’s Olympic gold winners at the Beijing Games last year.

She was one of five women’s players from USA Hockey and Team Canada – the two most dominant women’s national teams in the world – who were part of the skills events. She wore custom skates highlighting Black History month and the Black Girl Hockey Club, a nonprofit focused on getting more Black girls and women into the sport.

She used a move made famous by Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg when he helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Olympics against Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie.

U.S. star Hilary Knight didn’t think Nurse’s goal should have surprised anyone, saying, “she’s a top scorer.”

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

“It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.