As Sebastian Aho continues an impressive start to the Carolina Hurricanes season, breaking the franchise record with points in each of the first 12 games, the question becomes more pressing:
When will Aho sign a new contract and what will the terms be for the 21-year-old forward from Finland.
“I don’t think about it,” Aho said in an interview Monday. “The good thing is the hockey season is so busy, there’s not much time to think about things, anyway. I think I’ve done a pretty good job not thinking about it and I’ll try to keep it the same way.”
That’s Gerry Johannson’s job. Johannson is Aho’s agent and president and CEO of The Sports Corporation in Edmonton, Alberta, a firm that also represents such players as goalies Braden Holtby of the Caps and Carey Price of Montreal and center Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim.
Canes owner Tom Dundon has said he’d like Aho signed to a long-term contract and Aho said the same Monday.
“Yeah, for sure, definitely,” Aho said. “I like it here. I love living here.”
Johannson and Don Waddell, the Canes’ president and general manager, have been negotiating a new deal and Waddell said Monday he believed it will be completed before the end of the season.
“We’ve had lots of discussions and everything has been positive,” Waddell said. “We both have the same goal, and that is we want to sign him to a long-term deal and he wants to be here long term. That’s always the starting point, which is always good.”
And salary terms? Waddell did not reveal financial figures but said the two sides are not far apart.
“The amount of money we’re talking, there’s not a crazy difference,” Waddell said.
In salary negotiations Waddell said there are 20 good player comparables in the NHL to use as parameters. Waddell said the Canes consider three as “outliers” in terms of high-end salary while Aho and Johannson, who could not be reached Monday, have three outliers on the low end.
“So you try to find a middle ground,” Waddell said.
One outlier is Buffalo center Jack Eichel, 22, whose eight-year contact with the Sabres has a $10 million salary-cap hit per season. In his first three NHL seasons, Eichel has scored 24, 24 and 25 goals and had 56, 57 and 64 points.
Aho had 24 goals and 49 points in 2016-17, his rookie year, and then 29 goals and 65 points last season. Like Eichel, he’s being promoted as the future face of the franchise.
While Waddell did not name any players, the understanding is the Canes are not offering Aho an Eichel-like contract.
Salaries vary for top-line NHL forwards. Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals, who has a Stanley Cup ring, has a $7.8 million cap hit. Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau has a $6.75 million cap hit and David Pastrnak, 22, whose Boston Bruins face the Canes on Tuesday, makes $6.67 million a year.
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon has a seven-year contract with a $6.3 million cap hit and Winnpeg’s Mark Scheifele an eight-year contract at $6.125 million, according to CapFriendly.com. which tracks NHL salaries.
Center Jordan Staal ($6 million) and defenseman Dougie Hamilton ($5.75 million) have the Canes’ two highest cap hits. Aho figures to be the highest-paid Hurricane when the deal is done.
Aho was drafted in the second round by Carolina in 2015, 35th overall, and is in the final year of his entry-level contract. He has a $925,000 cap hit, with a potential $850,000 in bonus money this season.
Aho had slow goal-scoring starts his first two NHL seasons but not this one. Used at center by Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour, Aho has four goals and 12 assists in the Canes’ 6-4-1 start.
“I wasn’t too sure,” Brind’Amour said Monday of his initial reluctance to have Aho center a line. “But good players find a way to contribute on the score sheet. He’s obviously done that.”
Pretty good negotiating leverage, too.
Aho ranks among the NHL points leaders, and with an assist Tuesday in the Canes’ 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins broke Ron Francis’ previous franchise record of an 11-game point streak to start the season.
According to the NHL, only three players have had at least one assist in the first 12 games of a season: Wayne Gretzky (1982-83, Edmonton Oilers), Ken Linseman (1985-86, Boston Bruins) and now Aho.
Aho also passed former Canes captain Eric Staal for the longest consecutive assists streak in franchise history.
“I’d rather have the win,” Aho said after the loss to the Bruins.