Marc Bergevin

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Hurricanes will match offer sheet for Sebastian Aho

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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?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canadiens offer sheet to Hurricanes’ Aho shakes up NHL

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It was so improbable that a fake social media post beat the real news by hours.

No NHL team had signed a restricted free agent to an offer sheet in more than six years. Then the Montreal Canadiens announced Monday they were bucking that trend by tendering one worth $42.27 million over five years to Sebastian Aho and putting the Carolina Hurricanes on the clock to decide whether to match the front-loaded, bonus-heavy offer.

”Actually surprised it wasn’t more,” Carolina general manager Don Waddell said. ”There’s been very few offer sheets. I think there hasn’t been one since 2013, so not a lot of people have been through it.”

Speculation had been building this could finally be the summer of the offer sheet with Aho, Toronto’s Mitch Marner, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point among a bumper crop of restricted free agents. Montreal offering one for Aho signed by the Finnish center nonetheless caused a stir around the NHL because of how rare the step has become.

”It’s an interesting concept,” Washington GM Brian MacLellan said. ”I’m assuming Carolina matches it, but we’ll see. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an offer sheet so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”

As part of the offer, cash-rich Montreal is offering an $11.3 million lump sum payment within a week of Aho’s signing and another for $9.87 million July 1, 2020; overall, the offer is 91.3% bonuses and 8.7% percent salary. It’s even more lopsided but less punitive than Philadelphia’s $110 million, 14-year offer sheet to Shea Weber in 2012 that included $68 million in bonuses and Nashville matched.

Carolina has seven days to make a decision.

”When you make an offer like that, we saw a vulnerable position,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said. ”We all get along but we all have a competitive edge. I’m responsible for the Montreal Canadiens and not other teams.”

Calgary was the last team to tender an offer sheet when it did so with then-Colorado center Ryan O'Reilly in February 2013, and the Avalanche matched. You have to go back to 2007 for the last time a team didn’t match an offer sheet, when Anaheim accepted first-, second- and third-round picks from Edmonton for Dustin Penner.

Carolina would receive that same return if it doesn’t match the offer sheet for Aho. The average salary-cap hit of $8.45 million is just $871 under the threshold that would have cost the Canadiens two first-round picks.

Of course, Waddell said last week the Hurricanes would match any offer. And if they do, it takes a big item off his offseason to-do list.

”I know my summer just got better because I’m not going to spend all summer negotiating a contract now,” Waddell said. ”We’ll make a decision and move on.”

Carolina wasn’t getting sympathy nor was Montreal being criticized for the offer sheet. Among GMs with their own potential restricted free agent vulnerabilities, the idea that offer sheets were somehow dishonorable wasn’t a fashionable argument Monday.

”It’s an avenue for teams to go down,” said New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, who was not worried about an offer sheet for defenseman Jacob Trouba. ”There’s been a lot of chatter over the last year or so that these are coming or whatnot. You have your eye that these might happen and obviously today we saw what happened.”

A similar thing could happen to the Maple Leafs (Marner), Avalanche (Rantanen), Lightning (Point) or Capitals with Jakub Vrana. Toronto, Tampa Bay and Washington are hard up against the salary cap and now that the dam has been broken should probably be ready in case an offer sheet comes their way.

The Avalanche still have almost $30 million in cap space, so they were not concerned.

”We have plenty of cap space for us,” GM Joe Sakic said. ”That was one thing we were always going to have set aside going into free agency was protection against that, so I’m not worried about that.”

The best way not to worry is to sign key restricted free agents before an offer sheet can be tendered. Carolina wasn’t close with Aho’s camp on numbers, but San Jose took care of signing rising star Timo Meier to a $24 million, four-year contract and now doesn’t have to sweat anyone going after him.

”Those things can be part of this time of year,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. ”Is it in the back of your mind? I guess you’d say yes.”

Bergevin has Canadiens back on right track

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Although it’s not official just yet, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. But this time, there will be more of a positive feeling heading into the offseason.

Coming into last season, expectations were high for this Canadiens team. They had been bounced in the first of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers and fans were expecting the team to take the next step. Unfortunately, Carey Price was injured and the team completely fell apart.

General manager Marc Bergevin’s seat appeared to be incredibly hot going into last summer. The pressure was on. With lowered expectations, the Habs found a way to compete for a playoff spot until the very end of the season. What’s even more impressive, is that captain Shea Weber missed the first two months of the season and franchise goalie Carey Price had a rocky start to the season.

How did they manage to stay in the race? Well, their GM bounced back in a big way.

Bergevin had a very strong off-season.

It started with selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in the NHL Entry Draft. No one expected him to stick with the team all year, but he proved that he was ready. Even though he’s faded down the stretch, he showed that he has the potential to be a special player for years.

The Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk trade wasn’t well received by most Canadiens fans and media at first, but those doubts quickly faded as it became clear that Domi was made for a hockey market like Montreal. Heading into the final game of the season, the 24-year-old has 28 goals and 71 points in 81 games. As of this moment, it looks like the Habs won that deal.

On June 30th, Bergervin decided to eat Steve Mason’s cap hit (he was bought out by the Habs) in order to acquire Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets. Armia proved to be a useful bottom-six player with size (the Canadiens don’t have many big bodies, especially up front).

A day before training camp, they shipped Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and Columbus’ second-round pick in 2019. Although things didn’t work out for Tatar in Vegas, he fit in like a glove in Montreal, as he spent most of the year on the team’s top line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Tatar has 25 goals and 58 points in 79 games. On the flip side, Pacioretty has 22 goals and 40 points in 65 games with the Golden Knights. Again, that’s a win for Bergevin.

On Oct. 1, the Canadiens and Calgary Flames made a minor swap involving three defensemen. Montreal sent Rinat Valiev and Matt Taormina to Calgary in exchange for Brett Kulak. Both players acquired by the Flames failed to play in an NHL game this season. As for Kulak, he started the year in the minors, but quickly emerged as a top-four defender for the Candaiens this season. The pending restricted free agent will surely get a raise (he made less than a million dollars this year) going into next season.

Even at this year’s trade deadline, Bergevin sent Michael Chaput to Arizona for Jordan Weal, who fit in nicely with his new team. Weal played on the power play and he added more depth offense to a team that relies on all four of its lines to chip in. The 26-year-old has picked up a respectable eight points in 15 games since joining the Canadiens.

Whether the Canadiens get into the playoffs are not, they’re miles ahead of where they were at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Yes, their past struggles were created by Bergevin, but he’s found a way to get the organization back on the rails. Now, the challenge will be to built upon the season they just had.

They have cap space and plenty of needs. And this time, not making the playoffs won’t be an option. Bergevin has to find a way to improve the left side of the defense and he has to add some more scoring punch to this group. He deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his body of work in 2018-19, but this is another huge year for him and his legacy in Montreal.

So as crushing as the loss to the Washington Capitals was last night, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this organization is heading in the right direction again.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bergevin’s patient approach is right one for Canadiens

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday night’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Canadiens were bad last year. Really bad. Most owners would’ve parted ways with everyone in the front office, but team president Geoff Molson decided to stick with his general manager, Marc Bergevin. As you’d imagine, expectations weren’t very high coming into this year. Not only have the Habs exceeded those expectations, they’ve managed to keep themselves in the playoff mix, and a lot of that is because of the work Bergevin put in over the summer.

Trading Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi, shipping Max Pacioretty to Vegas for a package that included Tomas Tatar (help today), Nick Suzuki (help tomorrow) and a draft pick, and drafting Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in June have all been wins for Bergevin.

Domi and Kotkaniemi make up two of Montreal’s top three centermen and Tatar is tied for second on the team in goals.

After spending a couple of weeks in British Columbia at the IIHF World Junior Championship, Bergevin met the media back at the Bell Center last week. Not only did he touch on the performance of some of his top prospects at the tournament, he also shed some more light on the current state of his team.

Even though the Habs are pushing for a playoff spot, it’s clear that he won’t be making any trades that involve his young prospects. No giving up draft picks for rentals, either.

“I’m always going to be listening to options, but the goal is to build for the future. Just to give up assets for the short-term, I’m not going to do it. It would have to be very appealing,” said Bergevin. “If there are young players available, assets have to go. I get that. But, I don’t think I’ll be in the rental business.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“Based on what I saw in Vancouver, the future of the Canadiens is very bright. I’m not going to start mortgaging the future. I know what’s coming with the World Juniors, who they’re going to be asking for, and I’m not moving these kids. It’s going to be a short conversation, I think… If we drafted these kids, it’s because we believe they have some potential. That came to the forefront in Vancouver with our prospects that really stepped up their games.”

What he’s saying is, Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, Josh Brook, Jesse Ylonen, Alexander Romanov, Cayden Primeau, Cale Fleury and a few others aren’t going anywhere if the return is only a short-term gain. But as Bergevin pointed out, if there’s a hockey trade to be made, he won’t shy away from pulling the trigger if it means his team is better for it in the long run.

Bergevin’s slow and steady approach is the right one. Even though his team has a chance to get into the postseason, there are too many big holes on the roster to make them a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They still need help down the middle and they’re lacking a left-shooting defenseman that can play big minutes on the top pairing with Shea Weber.

Those aren’t pieces that become available too often, so it’s unlikely that Bergevin will be able to fill those holes with an in-season trade or two. So, although getting into the playoffs with a healthy Weber and Carey Price would be a bonus, it shouldn’t affect the way the GM views his team right now.

Patience is key. Canadiens fans should appreciate that their front office realizes that.

John Forslund (play-by-play), AJ Mleczko (analyst) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

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.

No big moves needed as Predators primed for another Cup run

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Another summer is here, and the warm months wouldn’t be complete without hearing fresh P.K. Subban trade rumors.

This isn’t exactly all that surprising, of course. The Nashville Predators’ defenseman is one of the league’s premier rearguards and comes with the possibility of quite the haul in return in any deal swung for him. And he just seems to have this knack for working his way into the rumor mill

Case and point: he’s on TSN’s Trade Bait board this year, and he’s inside the Top 10, just for good measure.

But while it might not come as a shock to the hockey world to see Subban’s name being thrown around in the trade winds again, there’s absolutely no reason why the Predators would want to trade one of the league’s top defenseman away from a team that remains so well-positioned in the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL as a whole.

Let’s review: Subban is a great defenseman that’s sound in puck possession, shot suppression and putting up points.

Naturally, Predators general manager David Poile has subsequently shot down the rumors regarding Subban, who has four years remaining on a seven year, $72 million deal with an annual cap hit of $9 million.

“You see tweets from different places, but that’s not happening,” Poile told The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun. “P.K. played terrific this year. He played really well. He’s a really good player. He’s one of the three candidates for the Norris Trophy. I really don’t know where this comes from.”

We’ve seen this song and dance before.

But while Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin couldn’t ultimately be believed in the end, there’s no reason to think Poile would drop that bomb in his defensive corps, one that is largely staying the same aside from Alexei Emelin becoming a unrestricted free agent.

That vaunted core on the back end — arguably the best in the NHL with Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis (a UFA after next season) — is all under contract

Let’s not forget that the Predators are one year removed from the Stanley Cup Final, and that they lost a tight series to the Winnipeg Jets in second round this season. And most importantly, let’s not lose track of the fact that Nashville is still in prime position to make another run this upcoming season.

Scott Hartnell is gone, but the Predators only have two other players searching for new deals — Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki, both restricted free agents and filler pieces rather than key cogs. Everyone else is under contract and the Predators can look forward to Eeli Tolvanen entering the lineup next season.

Juuse Saros is an RFA in goal (and you’d have to think the Predators will want to square that one away ASAP with 35-year-old Pekka Rinne set to become a UFA next offseason) but their lineup will look quite similar to that of this past season, one which led the Predators to the 117 points and the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season.

The Predators are sitting pretty, too, under the cap, with $7.5 million to give in its current state — a number that is expected to rise with next season’s cap being projected in the $78 million to $82 million range.

If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. And that cliche certainly applies to the Predators this summer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck