One Sebastian Aho saga, with the Montreal Canadiens, has come to end. Another one, however unlikely, could be just beginning with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Aho Signs with the Canadiens
Considering the length of the five-year offer sheet Aho signed with the Habs, this hypothetical one could last longer. That’s if the two sides fail to put any lingering uncomfortable feelings behind them… “uncomfortable” being a word Aho acknowledged as a way to describe the experience of the Hurricanes officially matching the $42.27 million pact and a conversation afterward with owner Tom Dundon.
Ultimately, if it wasn’t clear heading into free agency, the Hurricanes needed Aho more than he needed them. After all, No. 1 centers don’t grow on trees. Now the Hurricanes have secured one in Aho through the prime years of his career at a relatively cost-effective cap hit of $8.454 million per season.
There’s no question the Hurricanes would have loved to sign Aho for less money and for a longer term, to eat up some of his unrestricted-free-agent years. Whatever resentment toward Aho they may be harboring, they should spare themselves the trouble and get over it for a variety of reasons.
For starters, all Aho did was do whatever most sane people would have done: sign for as much money as someone is willing to offer you.
Aho vs. Weber
Aho has stated that his heart is with the Hurricanes and that he signed the deal to get his next contract taken care of one way or another. That may be true, but it’s readily apparent he would have found some way to make it work had Carolina declined to match and he ended up with the Habs. Money may not buy happiness, but it does a lot of coping mechanisms. In any case, what’s done is done. Is it water under the bridge, though?
The Canadiens remain relevant here, because of how their captain Shea Weber once signed an offer sheet of his own. Then a member of the Nashville Predators, Weber signed his current 14-year, $110 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Predators obviously matched, but eventually dealt Weber less than a third of the term into the contract.
In the process, the Predators avoided two separate lump-sum $8 million signing-bonus payouts. Granted, they did pay Weber $13 million in bonuses each of the first four seasons of the deal, but there’s a good case to be made the Subban trade was as much a financial transaction as it was a hockey trade. If it’s a healthy relationship, it’s hard to imagine money getting in the way to that degree with a player that for all intents and purposes meant the franchise.
Just look at the deal from the Canadiens’ perspective. There was almost no conceivable reason to give up Subban, who is four years younger than Weber and a pillar in the Montreal community (even after the deal), unless you start to believe rumors of a rift in the relationship.
Canes in Good Shape with Aho Deal
It’s of course hard to characterize Weber’s relationship with the Predators, but they did make out like bandits with the trade. Even if they did just trade Subban out of salary-cap considerations, they reached the Stanley Cup Final his first season there. Meanwhile, the Canadiens have been less than stellar since. They’ve missed the playoffs the last two seasons, as Weber, who is admittedly still a star and the Habs’ best player not named Carey Price, continues to slowly decline. He’s 34 now. He’ll be going on 41 by the end of the deal.
That’s why the Hurricanes should let bygones be bygones, if they haven’t already. Aho will only be turning 27 when his new five-year deal ends. Admittedly, that may be somewhat a bug of the new contract in the Hurricanes’ eyes and not a feature, because they would have liked to lock Aho up for longer. That’s a perfectly valid sentiment.
However, Aho is entering the most productive seasons of his career right now, and, considering the market for the services of a point-per-game No. 1 center, he’ll be paid as he should be. Far too often in the NHL, it’s the opposite, where players get rich based on how they’ve performed in the past only to slow down once they’ve signed on the dotted line come July 1. The Aho contract, while expensive, is unlikely to be one the Hurricanes look back on as more trouble than its worth like the Predators obviously did back in the day. By the end, it could even look like one of the better contracts in the league thanks to inflation.
The Hurricanes may already realize this. They may only be focusing their frustration, if they have any at all, at Habs general manager Marc Bergevin, for prematurely inflating their pay structure, especially seeing as there are plenty of conspiracy theories Bergevin extended the offer just to make it look like he was doing something to improve the Habs. In the end, he may have indirectly hurt them if the Hurricanes choose to retaliate when the time is right.
It would be there right to do so, but ultimately he did the Hurricanes a favor, even if it might not look like it. By his own admission, Aho’s happier than he was. Sure, millions upon millions of dollars has a tendency to do that to a guy, but, regardless, you want to keep your stars happy. If your stars are happy, they’ll end up staying when they might otherwise leave, say in about five years’ time.
If the Hurricanes can keep Aho happy, the shorter-than-desired term of his deal won’t matter. Make it so he needs you just as much as you need him and he’ll stay. He may even take a hometown discount the next time around, not out of guilt, because he did nothing wrong by signing an offer sheet… just because he’ll want to stay where he’s wanted. The story doesn’t have to end five years from now. It can last longer, with a happy ending to boot.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.