Luke DeCock

Hurricanes dodge a bullet with tepid offer sheet for Aho

It could have been so much worse, and probably should have been if the Montreal Canadiens were serious about it. Their tepid offer sheet for Sebastian Aho on Monday, while harsh on the cash-poor Carolina Hurricanes with its $21.87 million in the first year, is so easily and obviously matched that the Hurricanes essentially dodged a bullet.

Now they have to bite one.

While Aho’s offer sheet, overall, is probably where he would have ended up by training camp anyway, only for a shorter term of five years at an average of $8.454 million per season, it’s structured to pay most of the money as immediate salary and signing bonuses, which gives Aho protection in the case of a potential lockout in 2020 while straining the Hurricanes’ finances now.

In the end, it’s a large price in terms of cash flow but a small one otherwise to pay to retain Aho – the paltry compensation would be a first-round, second-round and third-round pick – and the Hurricanes will have to match.

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They are certainly free to drag it out for the full seven days, but they have to match.

Now, if Montreal had gone into eight digits, offering Aho more than $10.6 million per season and bumping the compensation to four first-round picks, the Hurricanes would have had to have a serious discussion about whether Aho is a $10-plus million player and whether they could build the team they want to build with Aho making that much.

Just because they have salary-cap space today does not mean they’re going to have this much in two or three or four years, if all goes well. Especially considering what they’re going to have to pay Andrei Svechnikov on his next contract.

That was the fear: That Montreal, which spent the weekend clearing cap space, would make an offer that was a no-win for the Hurricanes whether they matched or not.

“I’m surprised it wasn’t more,” an unruffled Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell quipped.

To mix sporting metaphors, the Canadiens’ tepid actual offer was a draw play on third-and-long. It might work, but probably not, and what was the point anyway?

No wonder NHL teams never offer-sheet restricted free agents. They still haven’t figured out how to do it right.

Like their past playoff series against Montreal, this will be an easy win for the Hurricanes. There might be short-term financial pain but there will be no long-term damage.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes were able to along to more pressing matters, like bringing back Petr Mrazek to ensure the opening-night goalie tandem isn’t James Reimer and Anton Forsberg.

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After flirting with Semyon Varlamov (who signed with the New York Islanders) and Robin Lehner (who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks). the Hurricanes circled back to Mrazek late Monday afternoon with a reasonable two-year deal worth $3.125 million per season.

Both sides wanted to see what else was out there. Both sides were happy to end up where they started.

The Hurricanes now have a bit of a No. 2 logjam with Reimer and Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic, but that’s more easily solved than the lack of a No. 1, and even if Mrazek isn’t a clear-cut ace, he’s at least a proven professional who can at worst shoulder the majority of the load, as he did last season with Curtis McElhinney.

Any of the three — Mrazek, Lehner, Varlamov — would have been fine, but it was best for everyone not to let this linger. The Hurricanes dodged a bullet on the Aho offer sheet. They would have been pushing their luck trying to dodge a second if they waited too long to sign a goalie.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered four Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.