The Montreal Canadiens, making a major move on the first day of NHL free agency, extended an offer sheet Monday to All-Star center Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The offer sheet to Aho, a restricted free agent, was a five-year deal at $8.454 million a year. The Habs will forfeit a first-round pick, second-round and third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft if the Hurricanes do not match the offer sheet, which Aho signed.
Canes general manager Don Waddell, in a press conference Monday afternoon at PNC Arena, said the timing of the offer sheet -- at 2:40 p.m. -- came as a surprise and that he had not been able to discuss it fully with team owner Tom Dundon, who he said was in Colorado.
Waddell said Saturday at the Canes’ Summerfest Celebration that the team would match any offer sheet for Aho, 21, who set career highs this past season in goals (30) and points (83) and was the team’s top scorer.
“We’re reviewing it and haven’t had time to bring everybody into the inner circle and talk about it,” Waddell said. “We’ll make an announcement sometime in the near future but it’s certainly a surprise and actually surprised it wasn’t more.”
Waddell did not discuss the terms of the offer sheet but several media outlets reported Aho would be paid more than $21 million in bonus money in the first 12 months. Aho would receive a $700,000 salary in the first two years of the contract and $750,000 in the final three years . His bonus payments would be: $11.3 million (2019-20), $9.87 million (2020-21), $6.95 million (2021-22) and $5.25 million in each of the final two years.
The Hurricanes have a week to match the offer sheet and Waddell said the Canes might use the whole week, saying, “To do it immediately probably helps the other team, they can go out and sign players, and maybe I don’t want to help them right now.”
Waddell said Saturday that Aho had been offered an eight-year contract by the Canes during the recent NHL Draft in Vancouver.
“They said they’d get back to us with a counter (offer) and told us Friday there was no counter coming, so we figured this (offer sheet) was in the workings,” Waddell said.
While the length of the offer-sheet contract is shorter than the Canes wanted, Waddell said the average annual payout of $8.454 million was “not out of whack” from what had been discussed.
“Maybe a little higher,” he said, “but that’s why they did it.”
Waddell said he had not been in contact with Aho on Monday.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, in his press conference Monday, said of Aho: “He wants to be here in Montreal. He agreed to this. He thinks this is a very good offer for him and he wants to be part of the Montreal Canadiens.”
Bergevin said the offer was made because the Canadiens “saw a vulnerable position” although the Canes have ample salary-cap space and Dundon the capital to match the offer.
There had not been an NHL offer sheet tendered since 2013, when forward Ryan O’Reilly, then with the Colorado Avalanche, accepted a two-year, $10 million offer from the Calgary Flames. The Avalanche in turn matched the offer.
The Aho offer sheet came on a day when Waddell said the Canes were negotiating with goalies Petr Mrazek and Robin Lehner. Both became unrestricted free agents on Monday -- Lehner a Vezina Trophy finalist with the New York Islanders this past season.
The Canes reached the playoffs last season as Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney split the workload. McElhinney, who became also a UFA on Monday, signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Canes had two other players also leave in free agency -- forwards Patrick Brown (Vegas), Greg McKegg (New York Rangers). Waddell said forward Brock McGinn, a restricted free agent, had filed for arbitration..
Waddell had said he expected to have Aho signed by September, eliminating any chance of a holdout by the Finnish forward. That won’t happen now.
“I know my summer just got better,” Waddell said. “I won’t spend all summer negotiating a contract.”