An unexpected delight on the opening of NHL free agency: The Montreal Canadiens have signed Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent forward Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet. It will be very interesting to see how this one goes down—while it feels unlikely that the Hurricanes won’t match, at the very least there should be some hard feelings all around. And if that isn’t the true spirit of free agency, I don’t know what is.
A reminder on how offer sheets work, because they’re pretty rare. Any team can extend and agree to terms with an RFA, and if the player signs it, his current team has one week to either match the terms of the deal exactly, or to let the player walk and receive draft-pick compensation. There is, among more cowardly GMs, a quasi-gentleman’s agreement not to use offer sheets very often, since much rarely comes of them—a team isn’t going to extend an offer sheet it’s not willing to pay, which means it’s usually reasonable enough for the original team to match. An offer sheet hasn’t been tendered in the NHL since 2013, and a player hasn’t changed teams on one since Edmonton snatched up Dustin Penner from Anaheim in 2007. (That one famously led to one aggrieved GM renting a barn and challenging the other to a fistfight before Gary Bettman stepped in.)
But just because the team tendering the offer sheet probably won’t land the player doesn’t mean it can’t cause some havoc. Often, the specific terms of an offer-sheeted deal can serve as poison pills for the team forced to match. Here’s Aho’s:
Aho is 21 years old and put up 83 points last season, so he’s very obviously worth the $42.25 million over five years that this offer totals. The real fun in how frontloaded it is: $21 million in the first two years alone. For a team like the Canes, hoping to compete now but not with an unlimited budget (and with a new owner, Tom Dundon, who is entirely unpredictable with his money), it’s not ideal. I think Carolina will match the offer—they should not, under any circumstances, let Aho get away from them for this reasonable total figure—but they may be slightly hamstrung this year by the sizable cap hit a year early.
Hurricanes GM Don Waddell held a press conference today soon after news of the Canadiens’ offer sheet broke, and he at least seems to be having a good time:
Laugh it up, Don. And then find out where Marc Bergevin lives.