July 1st was meant to be a (relatively) quiet day for the Carolina Hurricanes, with the team not looking to make a huge splash in free agency, hoping that the parts would fall into place and they’d get a starting goaltender at a reasonable contract (they did), announcing the signing of their broadcast team for another season (hashtag none better, hashtag Maniscalco needs to take me to lunch), and maybe see how the market played out in case they needed to fill the slot Micheal Ferland or Justin Williams occupied. On the back burner were the contracts of their nine restricted free agents, which the team presumably had the entire summer to iron out.

Then, the Montreal Canadiens decided to move the timeframe forward a bit by signing franchise forward Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, essentially getting Aho to sign a contract with the Habs – a commitment to play for the team – if the Hurricanes did not match the contract, which was their right. The contract, which was front-loaded with signing bonuses that the Montreal front office, the Canadian media, and a local radio host thought would make it difficult for the Hurricanes to match, was met with a “lol ok” from the Canes front office, with the Canes social media team piling on:

And Canes GM Don Waddell asking “really – that’s it?”

The Canes would officially announce that they would be matching the offer the following day, but not immediately, as waiting to match would handcuff the Habs from signing another player to an offer sheet since the draft pick compensation would have to be available to make another offer, and without the Canes officially matching, those picks wouldn’t be available to the Habs). On July 7th, a day before the deadline to match, the Canes matched the offer, officially ending the wait and securing Sebastian Aho’s services for the next five seasons.

So, we move on, right? Oh – it’s never that easy. Not to be lost in all of this is that Sebastian Aho signed a contract to play for another hockey franchise – one that isn’t the Carolina Hurricanes – and that, for some people, is a reason for concern. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, in a press conference soon after the offer sheet was announced, told the collected media that Sebastian Aho wants to play for the Montreal Canadiens. Aho’s agent doubled down on the Montreal talk, saying Aho “100 percent wants to play in Montreal”. Suddenly, Sebastian Aho and the Canadiens are star-crossed lovers, with Don Waddell playing the role of Lord Capulet and the CBA Lord Montague – oh why couldn’t the Habs have been able to draft Aho and make this dream a reality?

(Side note: enjoy Noah Juulsen)

But how do you, as a Canes fan, view this from the outside? Sure, we could look at this as a player looking to get away from his team, or we could look at it as a player who was trying to get the contract that he wanted. Aho’s camp went into negotiations looking for a reported five-year deal around $9.5 million. The Canes wanted to sign Aho to an eight-year deal, locking down its franchise player for as long as it possibly could. Aho’s five year request makes sense. It takes him to unrestricted free agency as a young player, with him turning 27 that summer. The Canes would have fought hard to lock Aho down for as long as they could, and negotiations would have probably lasted the summer. It would have been long, painful, and potentially would have harbored bad feelings between Aho and the team (see Trouba, Jacob) or Aho and the fanbase (see Nylander, William).

We can take the – ahem – “Pollyanna approach” and see it as Aho receiving the contract that he wanted (or at least the term) and knowing that the Canes would be able to match it because the term was more than reasonable, and the compensation would be mediocre (a first, second, and third round pick). If you really want to go full “galaxy brain”, you can ask yourself if Aho would have signed the offer sheet if the offer had been for a more intimidating number (say – $11 million a season), almost entirely wrapped up in bonus money, with four first-round draft picks waiting as compensation if the team didn’t match?

Since none of us (not even those who speak French as their primary language) can read Sebastian Aho’s mind, here are the thinks that I think:

  • I think – regardless of what nearly the entire Canadiens fanbase would want you to think – that Sebastian Aho signed that offer sheet knowing full well that the Hurricanes would match.
  • I don’t think that he signed it with the thought that he wouldn’t potentially like to play in Montreal – I don’t think you make a “threat”, no matter how empty it may have been, without understanding the consequences if that threat (for some reason) doesn’t get met.
  • I think that Aho’s camp made sure that any comments that were made from them regarding Montreal were always going to come from his agent, as to not give the appearance that Aho ever wanted to leave the Hurricanes. It’s an agent’s job to do the “dirty” things that get his client paid the most and take the PR hits, while Sebastian can always sit back and shrug and say that the end result was what he always wanted.
  • I think, oddly enough, that in that “galaxy brain” scenario mentioned above, that Sebastian Aho doesn’t sign that offer if it’s for a much larger amount of money, at least not initially. Say what you will about wanting to make the most money you can, but there’s also the comfort level of playing in the city you’ve known since you were 19, having one of your best friends as a teammate, and coming off of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. People don’t like to move, and this isn’t a Jeff Skinner situation – things seem to be moving in the right direction and skies appear to be blue. But the five year term reeks of Skinner as well, allowing for a quicker out if things do take a turn for the worse.
  • Finally, I think that Montreal fans are going to be unbearable for the next few years, and that’s somewhat understandable. Imagine getting up the nerve to ask the homecoming queen out to prom and they accept, only to come over on prom night and find out that she left with her old boyfriend – that she only said yes to make him jealous. Sure, they’re trying to make Nordique relocation references and screaming out how they were going to offer sheet Mitch Marner anyway (ok buddy), but really the one that they were looking for was right there all along, in the big glasses and goofy overalls. Don’t worry Habs fans, your glasses girl is out there – I believe in you, buddy. Just keep playing Sixpence None The Richer and they’re bound to come down that staircase.