As the clock ticked past 2:30 PM EDT, the “frenzy” surrounding the first day of unrestricted free agency had largely ebbed. Anders Lee and Jake Gardiner remained unsigned, but “status quo” and “rumour has it” largely summed up their respective situations. Television coverage, whether by duty or default, had shifted to Ottawa Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion discussing the virtues of Nikita Zaitsev.
Ten minutes later, enter Marc Bergevin.
The Canadiens have announced that they have tendered an offer sheet to restricted free agent Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes. The proposed contract is for five years, with an average annual value of $8.454 million.#GoHabsGo— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) July 1, 2019
Bergevin’s aggressive move immediately launched a thousand Internet comments. Was the move bold? Was it foolish? Most importantly, was it enough?
But as the dust began to settle and the general managers of both sides weighed in publically, a fourth question began to surface for les partisans: what’s next for the Canadiens?
Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell seems to think that his organization is not the only hostage created by Bergevin’s gambit, and that the Habs have nothing to do in the coming week but wait nervously by the phone. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Waddell says he doesn't know if they'll use all seven days to match the offer sheet, signing right away allows the other team to sign more players and (smirks) "maybe I don't want to help them out right now"— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) July 1, 2019
As Arpon Basu of The Athletic points out, the Canadiens have more than enough cap space to make competitive and even market-breaking offers to any free agent still available. Holding roughly $13.5 million in actual cap space after the Andrew Shaw trade and factoring in the 10% off-season overage allotment, the Habs entered free agency capable of offering up to ~$21.65 million in salaries. With $1.75 million offered to Keith Kinkaid and the aforementioned $8.454 million reserved for Sebastian Aho, this gives Marc Bergevin about $11.5 million left to play with.
And play with it he must, regardless of his hesitancy.
Marc Bergevin says he would be willing to use the 10% offseason cap cushion to shop while he waits for the Canes decision, but didn’t sound all that enthusiastic about doing it. Of course, if he signs someone and the Canes don’t match the Canadiens would be well over the cap.— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) July 1, 2019
The risk for Bergevin is that, for all that has been said about Tom Dundon’s investments, Carolina’s gate receipts, and Waddell’s internal salary structures, the Hurricanes are still highly unlikely to simply let a player who could easily become the face of their franchise — if he isn’t that already — simply walk away. Assuming that Carolina makes good on their threat to wait out the entirety of their seven-day response period, a matched offer sheet could leave an idle Bergevin with absolutely nothing to show for the off-season except Keoth Kinkaid, over $10 million in actual cap space, and, for a fleeting week, the eyes and ears of the hockey world. In such a worst-case scenario, he would have created an opening in his top-nine by dealing Shaw while failing to address the weakness at left defence.
While Waddell and Dundon ponder, Bergevin needs to continue in his attempts to improve his team, whether that’s a continued pursuit of big name UFAs like Gardiner, shifting his attention to more complementary players such as Marcus Johansson or Ryan Dzingel, reviving trade conversations for players like Shayne Gostisbehere, or even the spectre of additional offer sheets ... maybe for another Finnish player who was once a linemate of Aho?
While the thought of dipping into that off-season buffer invites uncertainty and trepidiation, Bergevin is not without means at his disposal to alleviate any cap overages prior to the start of the season. As David Poile and Kyle Dubas have amply demonstrated recently, no contract is unmovable, and there will likely be at least a few suitors looking for contracts to take on in exchange for a draft pick or two of the 12 for next year’s draft that Bergevin has acquired to date.
Alternatively, much like Shaw, the Canadiens still hold a number of moderately priced talents with league-wide value who would be superseded by the arrival of an Aho — players like Paul Byron ($3.4 million), Tomas Tatar ($4.8 million), or even Jonathan Drouin ($5.5 million).
So while Waddell can be as snarky and snide as he wishes, the reality is that Bergevin’s job is far from finished. Whether Aho is able to don the bleu-blanc-rouge next season or not, the Canadiens still have needs to address and ways to address them. Having already demonstrated once that he’s willing to use all the tools at his disposal, Bergevin needs to continue in the same vein in order to have a successful off-season.