Canes officially match Canadiens’ offer sheet to Sebastian Aho

The Carolina Hurricanes have officially matched the offer sheet made to Sebastian Aho by the Montreal Canadiens, the Canes announced Sunday, setting Aho’s contract for the next five seasons.

The Canadiens informed the Canes of the offer sheet, signed by Aho, this past Monday as NHL free agency began. Canes owner Tom Dundon on Tuesday quickly responded that the team would match the five-year, $42.27 million offer, and the Canes did not wait the fully allowed seven days -- as general manager Don Waddell indicated the Canes might -- before official notice to the Canadiens and the league on Sunday.

“I’m grateful for the offer from the Montreal Canadiens but it was always my hope to return to the Hurricanes,” Aho said in a statement posted on his Twitter account. “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.”

The Canadiens’ offer to Aho was for an average $8.454 million a year, with a $21 million bonus to be paid in the first 12 months. The Canes had hoped to sign the Finnish center, the Canes’ offensive leader last season and an NHL All-Star at age 21, to an eight-year deal.

Aho, who set career highs in goals and points last season, and the Canes began discussing a contract extension early last season before both sides agreed to wait until the season had ended before further negotiations. The offer sheet, and the Canes matching it, decided the contract issue and avoided a potential holdout next fall had the two sides not been able to reach an agreement.

Aho will receive a $700,000 salary in the first two years of the contract and $750,000 in the final three years . His bonus payments will 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 offer sheet was the first in the NHL since Feb. 28, 2013, when the Calgary Flames forwarded one to center Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche -- the Avs later matched the two-year, $10 million offer.

NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire, in a radio interview this past week with TSN 690 in Montreal, called the Canadiens’ offer sheet a “predatory offer” while saying the Habs were “cold and calculating” and aware Carolina’s gate receipts last season were about $22 million. McGuire stressed there was nothing wrong with the offer, saying it was part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement,

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, in his Monday press conference, said the offer was the “threshold” at which the Canadiens were comfortable. At $8.454 million a year, the Habs would have given the Canes a first-round, second-round and third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, if the Canes didn’t match the offer. At the next highest salary tier, the price would have been two first-rounders, a second and a third.

“I’m surprised someone would have thought this would work,” Dundon said Tuesday.

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.