Sebastian Aho will have his five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet matched by Carolina Hurricanes within the next week.
Aho was tendered the offer sheet, which has an average annual value of $8.454 million, by the Montreal Canadiens on Monday. By matching it, the Hurricanes will re-sign Aho through the 2023-24 season.
"First of all, I'm just relieved that it's done and Sebastian's going to not have to worry about this anymore," Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said. "He's a great player, he's a big asset for us, so it's nice to have it done."
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General manager Don Waddell did not say when the Hurricanes will inform the NHL that they've matched the offer sheet, only that there was never any hesitation they would.
"We said all along for a period of time that we would match any contract offer," Waddell said. "We knew there was a possibility with all restricted free agents, so it comes as no surprise to anybody that they are offering it. We are working through the process right now and I don't have a set date that we're going to actually send notice to the League, but obviously it will be within our time frame that's allotted through the CBA."
Had the Hurricanes not matched the offer sheet, Aho, a center who was a restricted free agent, would have gone to Montreal, and Carolina would have received a first-round pick, second-round pick and third-round pick in the NHL Draft as compensation from the Canadiens. That compensation was not enticing to the Hurricanes.
"There was no consideration to any other choice but him playing for the Hurricanes," Dundon said.
Aho, who turns 22 on July 26, led the Hurricanes with 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) in 82 regular-season games and had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help them advance to the Eastern Conference Final, where they were swept by the Boston Bruins. Selected by Carolina in the second round (No. 35) of the 2015 NHL Draft, Aho has 197 points (83 goals, 114 assists) in 242 games.
Dundon and Waddell dismissed suggestions from Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and Aho's agent, Gerry Johannson, that Aho wanted out of Carolina.
"There's no scenario where Sebastian Aho doesn't want to be on the Hurricanes, but it is his right to use that leverage the CBA provides to get the most money from us. And that's all that happened," Dundon said. "I have not heard Sebastian Aho say [he wanted to leave], and if he said it, that would be different. But he didn't….
"I know what I think of this person and this player and there's nothing that could make me or the organization not appreciate everything he does for us."
Video: Aho returns to Carolina after Canes match offer sheet
Still, the Hurricanes would've preferred to sign Aho without the need of involving another team and an offer sheet. Waddell said Carolina made an eight-year contract offer that had a little lower average annual value, but "the (total) amount of money that we offered is a lot more money than the offer sheet."
When Aho's five-year contract expires, based on the terms of the current NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement, he would be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. That agreement expires after the 2021-22 season.
But other than that, the Hurricanes were happy to have him under contract.
"If we were negotiating on our own behalf, we would have went for more years for sure," Waddell said. "The five years is shorter than what we wanted, so that would be potentially an issue for us down the road. But five years is also a long time."
Dundon said the Canadiens were misinformed if they believed he didn't have the financial means to match the offer sheet, which is frontloaded to require more than $20 million be paid within the first 12 months.
"The fact that you're asking this question about whether $20 million is a lot of money for me or for the Hurricanes, maybe that leads to why we're in this situation. But it's not. It's not a concern," Dundon said. "I'm very fortunate to be in the position I am that, this sounds terrible but, writing that check is no big deal.
"It doesn't mean we don't want to do contracts that are best for the organization."
Prior to Aho, the last offer sheet given to an NHL player was to Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly by the Calgary Flames on Feb. 28, 2013. Colorado matched it and kept O'Reilly.
The last offer sheet to lead to a player changing teams was one given to Anaheim Ducks forward Dustin Penner, who signed with the Edmonton Oilers on July 26, 2007. The Hurricanes let the Canadiens know quickly that they won't have the same success with Aho.
"It's irrelevant to me who did it," Dundon said. "I don't think it's a great strategy. I think it's kind of proven that it was probably a waste of time. But it's their right to do it. If that's what they think is the best way to make their team better, then they have a different philosophy than I do."