Hurricanes to match Habs offer sheet to Aho

The Carolina Hurricanes took less than 24 hours to declare they'll match the offer sheet signed by restricted free agent center Sebastian Aho, which was tendered by the Montreal Canadiens on July 1.

Aho, 21, signed a five-year, $42.27 million contract. The deal runs through the 2023-24 season and carries an average annual value of $8.454 million. If the Hurricanes had let him walk, the Canadiens would have handed over first-, second- and third-round picks in the 2020 NHL draft.

The Hurricanes had a week to match the offer sheet, and announced on Tuesday their intention to match it, without specifying when they'd match. In theory, they could keep the Canadiens' compensatory draft picks tied up in this offer sheet for the full week before matching, preventing them from utilizing the picks in another offer sheet.

"This was an easy decision," GM Don Waddell said in a statement. "Sebastian is one of the best players in the league and the centerpiece of what we're building here. We've spoken to him throughout this process and he's made it clear that he wants to be in Raleigh and be a part of this organization. It's our job to manage our cap space as our players develop and hit free agency. There was no concern at any point that we would not be able to match this contract. Once again, the Carolina Hurricanes should not be underestimated. We have a plan and all the resources to win a Stanley Cup."

The Canadiens tried to lure away Aho, the Hurricanes' leading scorer, with the first signed offer sheet in the NHL since 2013. The offer sheet featured $11.3 million in signing-bonus money in the first year, and then $9.87 million in signing-bonus money in the second year -- the idea being that the Hurricanes would bristle at having to ante up $21.17 million to Aho in the span of a year.

The other aspect of the offer intended to scare off Carolina was the term. By giving Aho five years, the contract walks him right up to unrestricted free agency.

Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said that he wasn't concerned that Montreal had tested his franchise's ability to financially handle an offer sheet.

"It was so ridiculous in terms of probability of succeeding. If it was a test, it was quite an easy one," he said. "Everyone's trying to make their team better. We've looked at all the way to make our team better, and never came to the conclusion that the offer sheet was the best way. Your probability of succeeding is almost zero. It was proven that it was a waste of time."

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin had explored other options among restricted free agents, including Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning, before targeting Aho.

"I looked at the options of what was available and that's what, as an organization, we looked at the closest and we identified that Sebastian Aho was the player. After the window opened we were able to talk, and he wants to be here," Bergevin said on Monday. "He agreed to this. He believes this is a really good offer for him and he wants to be part of the Montreal Canadiens."

But the Hurricanes clearly intend to have him remain in Raleigh.

The remaining questions after this offer sheet drama: If there's any lingering animosity toward Aho for signing it; and why the Canadiens didn't go higher with their offer, as the immediate reaction to the contract was that it wasn't lucrative enough, nor was the draft pick compensation compelling enough, to dissuade Carolina from matching.

Dundon downplayed the idea that Aho preferred to play in Montreal rather than Raleigh, saying that agent Gerry Johannson was the one making that claim.

"The question is do you think you should believe an agent, and you guys can figure that out," Dundon said. "If [Aho] said it, it would be different. But he didn't. The fact that an agent said it means there's no credibility to it."

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