July 2, 2019 | 9:53AM ET
BY DAVID PAGNOTTA, The Fourth Period
CAROLINA KNEW OFFER SHEET WAS LIKELY
TORONTO, ON – Well, it finally happened. Everybody happy now? An NHL General Manager went the route of the offer sheet and the player actually agreed to sign it! Rejoice!
Oh, wait. You didn’t think the offer was high enough? Okay. Well, too bad! It happened! And guess what? It’s not as simple a solution as some are making it out to be.
When the Montreal Canadiens zeroed in and set their sights on Sebastian Aho, the Carolina Hurricanes knew there was a real possibility the Habs would present him with an offer sheet. As I reported, via Twitter, early Monday, talk of Montreal’s pursuit picked up significantly.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin reached out to Hurricanes GM Don Waddell on Sunday, it’s believed, to first voice his interest in Aho. The two sides spoke again about a possible trade scenario early-Monday and after a deal didn’t appear likely, the Habs made their move and Aho agreed to it.
A team can present an offer sheet to an endless supply of restricted free agents, but a player must agree to sign it. That’s what happened here. Teams can’t swoop in and steal a player away. In this case, Aho and his agent discussed the offer from Montreal and ultimately agreed to join the Canadiens, providing the Hurricanes don’t match the deal.
“I think that Sebastian 100 percent wants to play in Montreal,” Aho’s agent Gerry Johannson told Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic. “He wouldn’t have signed an offer sheet if he didn’t want to play in Montreal.”
The Canadiens first chatted with Johannson about his other client, Brayden Point, but it’s believed Point is not interested in leaving the Tampa Bay Lightning. Aho wasn’t a consolation prize by any stretch, but Bergevin was doing his due diligence.
Johannson also represents Canadiens stars Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher, and defenceman Brett Kulak. There is familiarity between agent and management, which likely helped the process.
Now, the expectation is Carolina will match. They’re doing a very good job in hinting at the likelihood of that happening. But it’s not as clear-cut as they’re making it seem publicly.
As mentioned, the Hurricanes knew this was coming. They weren’t exactly blindsided. As the day progressed on Monday, two separate sources close to the situation confirmed there was legitimate internal concern an offer sheet could come in and force Carolina’s hand.
Well, the offer came in and Aho signed it, but at first glance the deal isn’t as worrisome as everyone might have originally thought.
“I’m actually surprised it wasn’t more,” Waddell said Monday, less than half an hour after the offer came in. “We’re just reviewing it. We haven’t had time to really bring everybody in the inner circle in to talk about it.”
Aho’s new salary cap hit will be $8.454 million. If the Hurricanes refuse to accept the offer, they’ll receive a first-round draft pick, a second-round pick and a third-round pick from the Canadiens. Had Montreal offered $872 more, per year, they would’ve had to cough up an additional first-round pick if the Canes declined to match the offer.
Bergevin did not want to risk losing a second first-round pick. Giving up two firsts, a second and a third for Aho is certainly well under market price, but it might have made Carolina’s decision a little harder. Instead, Bergevin penny-pinched on the Average Annual Value (AAV), but caused some havoc in the way he structured Aho’s contract.
As part of Aho’s new contract, regardless of which team he’s on, $38.62 million of his $42.27 million deal comes in the form of bonuses, and $21.87 million, total, is due within the first 11 and a half months of the deal.
That’s a big chunk of change.
Normally, this wouldn’t really be an issue. And frankly, Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon’s pockets are deep enough that this shouldn’t really be an issue. However, this is new territory for him, and the belief is Dundon wasn’t overly thrilled yesterday when the news became official around 2:40pm ET.
Again, the expectation, at least publicly, is Carolina will match the offer. But would I be shocked if Dundon opts against it? Would I be shocked if he concludes that Aho, whom the Hurricanes offered an eight-year deal worth $7.5 million per year, turned his back on the franchise by agreeing to the offer? No, I won’t be shocked, I just won’t entirely expect it.
The Hurricanes have six more days to make a decision. My understanding is they’ll iron out their plan today and if they decide to match, they might not put pen to paper until later in the week.
Carolina also has other matters to attend to, as captain Justin Williams is an unrestricted free agent and in need of a new deal. I’m told he’s in no rush to make a decision, but other teams have reached out. The Canes also have RFAs Brock McGinn, Clark Bishop and Gustav Forsling to deal with – McGinn filed for arbitration.
Another matter is defenceman Justin Faulk, who’s now in the final year of his contract.
The Hurricanes and Faulk’s camp have had very loose preliminary discussions, to date. No future talks are currently planned, but neither side appears to be concerned. But Faulk’s next contract will play a slight factor in the Aho decision, as his next deal will come in north of $6 million, annually, and if the Hurricanes aren’t prepared to pay him that kind of money, they’re going to have to explore their options. But for the time being, that’s not at the forefront of Waddell’s mind.
We’ll know soon enough of Bergevin’s play worked, even though everyone suspects it won’t. Either way, he went for it. Will he be the only one?
COULD LAINE BE NEXT?
Of all the remaining RFAs out there, the one I’m most intrigued about is Patrik Laine.
Laine, like Aho, is 21-years of age. His situation hasn’t gotten as extreme as that of Aho’s, but you can be sure he was intrigued by what happened on Monday.
Contract discussions between Laine’s camp and the Winnipeg Jets haven’t been overly productive, to date. The two sides have an open dialogue, but negotiations haven’t really ramped up. With July 1 behind us, it’s expected talks will pick up. But if things don’t progress in the right direction, I’m told Laine will undoubtedly weigh outside factors.
We reported last month Laine is willing to explore all his options if contract talks with the Jets got ugly. According to another source close to the situation, the remains the case and could eventually be a realistic possibility.
With all the talk surrounding fellow RFA Kyle Connor’s future with the Jets and the speculation surrounding a possible offer sheet in his future, it seems as if Laine might be a more likely target.
So far, Laine’s camp isn’t at that stage yet – and neither is Connor’s, for that matter. If teams call Laine’s camp, I’m led to believe those inquiries will be put on hold for the time being.
But it certainly sounds like the threat of signing an offer sheet with another organization is very real in Laine’s case if negotiations with the Jets aren’t fruitful.
Something to watch out for.