Sebastian Aho will not become a Montreal Canadien.
In one of hockey’s worst kept secrets over the past week, the Carolina Hurricanes officially matched an offer sheet for their superstar forward on Sunday after Canadiens threw a wrench into the mix last week when they put forth an offer sheet for Aho’s services.
The deal came in right under the third tier threshold — an annual average value of $8.45 million or some $871 under the limit — meaning that if Hurricanes would have agreed to let Aho go, they’d received a first, second and third-round pick in 2020 from the Canadiens as compensation.
The offer sheet also meant that Aho agreed to the terms of the contract, including the money. For that price — given than some had Aho in the $10 million range per season — it seems he would have been happy to play with the Habs had the Hurricanes not matched it.
On Sunday, however, they did.
“I am grateful for the offer from the Montreal Canadiens, but it was always my hope to return to the Hurricanes,” Aho told NHL.com. “As a restricted free agent, I had limited options for moving along the process to get a deal done. It was always important to me to be on the ice for the first day of training camp. This entire situation has been difficult for me and my family, and I am happy it is at an end.
“We have a young and exciting group in Carolina and I can’t wait to be there with my teammates and get to work. I love it in Raleigh and I am thrilled that we can continue what we started last season.”
With a day to spare to make the decision, it was one that was already made much earlier last week.
The Hurricanes announced they’d match it on July 1, just a day after Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens tendered the offer.
“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.
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“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.”
Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said the team was both surprised and happy to have the deal done.
“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.”
With a week to digest the first offer sheet since 2013, some have wondered why the Canadiens didn’t go bigger and bolder if they wanted to actually sign the player.
To move to the next tier, they would have been able to offer Aho upward of $10.5 million while only giving up a second first-round draft pick as compensation.
Given the talents Aho possesses, it seems like a no-brainer and still falls short of the final tier where a team would have to give up four consecutive first-round picks for a deal worth over that $10.5 million amount. If nothing else, it would have put more pressure on the Hurricanes to commit.
It’s hard to envision a world where they would have just let Aho go, but if you’re going to try, why not at least go all-in?
Carolina had seven days to match the deal. Montreal is now free to throw another iron into the fire if they so choose.
Meanwhile, Aho is about to be a very, very rich man.
He’s over $21 million in the first year of the contract — all a part of two signing bonuses.
And this deal takes Aho right up to unrestricted free agency. In five year’s time, he will have the world at his feet throwing bags of money his way to obtain his services. At 21, Aho will just be entering his prime, so he takes a little less now and will likely have a larger salary cap and, by extension, a massive deal waiting for him on the other side.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck