Ladies and gentlemen, we have an offer sheet.
For the first time in six years, the NHL's free agency period includes a restricted free agent who has signed an offer sheet. The Montreal Canadiens announced Monday afternoon that they tendered a contract to Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho, offering him a five-year deal worth $8.454 million annually.
The Hurricanes now have two options: They can match the Canadiens' offer and retain Aho, or they can surrender the player to Montreal and collect a compensation package of a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a third-round pick.
Aho, 21, is an immensely talented piece for the Hurricanes down the middle. He's coming off a breakout year in which he scored 30 goals and registered 83 points in 82 games for the Canes.
As such, it seems like somewhat of a no-brainer for Carolina to match the offer, which would pay Aho a lucrative but rather fair price. Based off the comments from Hurricanes' general manager Don Waddell on Monday, it sounds like he's not all that worried about the situation.
Waddell: Aho is our best player and we want to keep him longterm. If you go back in time I think every offer sheet but one was matched.— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) July 1, 2019
Waddell on offer sheet: "It's certainly a surprise, it's a surprise it wasn't more. Literally we got the email at 2:40 today so all people are not fully aware yet."— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) July 1, 2019
Waddell: I know my summer just got better because I'm not going to spend all summer working on a contract now.— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) July 1, 2019
So, the Hurricanes' general manager says he's surprised Aho wasn't offered more and he's glad the player was offer sheeted so that he doesn't have to stress over contract negotiations this summer. It seems they're not exactly panicking in Carolina.
However, while the annual cap hit for Aho is reasonable, the Canadiens took an interesting approach on the payout. Montreal's proposal maximizes the signing bonus portion of the breakdown and would pay Aho more than $38.6 million of the $42.3 million deal in up-front money. That includes more than $21 million in bonuses over the first two years of the deal.
Breakdown of Aho offer sheet: $11.3M SB plus 700k salary in Year 1; $9.87M SB plus 700k salary in Year 2; $6.95 SB plus 750k salary in Year 3; $5.25 SB plus $750k in each of Year 4 and Year 5— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 1, 2019
It seems like Montreal's goal here is to potentially expose the Hurricanes' lack of available cash in order to secure Aho at a fair market rate. It's worth noting that Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon purchased 52% of the team and the operating rights to PNC Arena for $420 million last year.
This year, Dundon invested in the AAF and became the chairman of the now-defunct football league. Less than two months after becoming the league's controlling owner, Dundon shut down operations as the league filed for bankruptcy. He later filed his own claim in the AAF bankruptcy case, seeking $70 million in money he says he invested as a result of fraudulent misrepresentations.
It'll be interesting to see if Dundon and the Hurricanes will be willing and able to shell out so much immediate money to keep Aho, but it sounds like Wadell is doing his best to put the pressure on the ownership group to make the money available.
Last year, the Hurricanes had the second-lowest cash payroll in the league with an estimated cap total of $62,713,299. Currently, Carolina have about $27 million in available cap space.
The Hurricanes will have seven days to decide if they want to match the offer sheet for Aho. Wadell said the team doesn't plan on making a decision immediately, especially since they have an opportunity to freeze the Canadiens' pursuit of other players. A quick match would allow the Habs to move on to other players.
Regardless of how this situation plays out, this is a rare case of RFA drama in the NHL. Teams very rarely present offer sheets to opposing players due to an "unwritten code" among general managers. An offer sheet of another team's young star could lead to retribution and strained relationships down the line, and front offices rarely want to take the chance.
The last offer sheet came in 2013 when the Calgary Flames tried to sign Ryan O'Reilly away from the Colorado Avalanche. The year before that, the Philadelphia Flyers tendered a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet to Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. Both of those offers were ultimately matched.
The last successful offer sheet came in 2007 when the Edmonton Oilers poached Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks to the tune of five years, $21.5 million. The Oilers received a first, second and third-round pick as compensation for that deal.