The Canadiens didn't get Aho, and that's okay

Marc Bergevin took a swing for the fences when submitting an offer sheet for Sebastian Aho. The Hurricanes have since come out and stated they will match the contract, and while many people are going to be quick to say the Canadiens"failed", I would argue this is one of Marc Bergevin’s smartest moves yet.

Assessing the Risk

First and foremost, the move was simply a low risk, high reward offer. Worst case scenario, the Canadiens wouldn’t head into next season with Aho. Best case, Sebastian Aho would be a Montreal Canadien. There is common belief that this deal will delay any activity from the Canadiens, however this to me is an incredibly inaccurate. If the Canadiens were already up against the cap, this would be a fair assessment, however the Canadiens have the luxury of roughly 11.8M in cap at the publishing of this article (according to Every NHL team has the ability to exceed the salary cap by 10% during the summer months, meaning the Canadiens can spend an extra 8.15M. That means the Canadiens have roughly 20M to work with in free agency. Even with the Aho offer, the Canadiens have roughly 12M to sign other free agents. The extra 8M Marc Bergevin can’t use during the next week won’t cause much distress. The pending match of the offer by the Carolina Hurricanes effectively changes nothing for the Canadiens, proving it is incredibly low risk. The only thing waiting stops the Canadiens from doing is extending the same offer to another RFA.

The benefit to this offer sheet is obvious. Sebastian Aho is a game changing player, and would have instantly boosted the Canadiens to contending status, at the low price of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pick. While Hurricane fans will say this helped them, very few teams prefer their star player that was willing to play somewhere else, signing a contract that leads them to UFA status at 26. If the Hurricanes liked the offer so much they would have done it themselves. Whether they admit it or not, this is not what they were hoping for with Aho’s contract. The large signing bonus and shorter length hurt the Hurricanes, and as fans of a team in the same conference, that is only good news for the Canadiens.

Justifying the Offer Sheet AAV

Some will argue that Bergevin should have made the offer sheet in the next tier up, however when Bergevin stated he feel it wouldn’t have made a difference, I tend to believe him. Without getting too into the details of the contract, signing Aho at 10M would only increase the bonus slightly, and if Dundon was willing to pay 21M in the first year, he would likely pay 30M as well. The question was more if Dundon was willing to pay any significant money as apposed to say 4-5M. The difference between 5M and 21M is far greater than the difference between 21M and 30M. Do I think the odds would have been slightly greater to sign Aho if the salary was slightly higher? Sure, but the compensation would be higher, and the ramifications for other Has players would be significant. If Aho signs for 10M, players such as Domi, Kotkaniemi, Poehling, Suzuki, etc. may be less likely to take smaller annual salaries as they want to be fairly paid compared to their peers. 8.45M guaranteed a player such as Domi or Aho couldn’t ask for 8.5M without out-performing Aho. Another thing this offer sheet does is helps set the limit at which future contract disputes can be compared to. If we take a look at southern Ontario, the Toronto Maple Leafs are having trouble re-signing RFA Mitch Marner due to the internal comparisons to Tavares and Matthews. While the Leafs are pointing to Kucherov as a comparable contract, the Marner camp is more focused on receiving a similar contract to other Maple Leafs. This is how Marc Bergevin may have won big. Even though Sebastian Aho never played a game for the Canadiens, Bergevin could say they valued him at 8.45M. That means any player (Kotkaniemi, Poehling, Suzuki, Caufield) would have to outscore Aho's first three years in the NHL to try and get more. This is a part of the offer sheet many people seem to glance over. The real benefit of the Aho offer sheet may not be felt until the young prospects come time to negotiate their contracts.

Current NHL Situation

Aside from not stopping the Canadiens from other activity, this was the perfect time to strike as a team. The organization is rich with exciting prospects, as well as a young core of players still on the team right now. I made a rough estimation of what the lines could look like here:












While there are still notable holes on LD, this is a roster that is already a contender for a playoff spot. There aren’t many players that are readily available right now that would put this team over the top. Sebastian Aho definitely was one that was. This also shows the Canadiens were never going to be big players in free agency for middle of the pack forwards, instead targeting players that would put their group over the top. Despite not landing their intended target of Aho, they realistically didn't miss out on anyone they truly prioritized, as players that signed yesterday such as Brandon Tanev wouldn't make a tremendous amount of difference.

Potential Trade Leverage

The offer sheet could also be used as a way to capitalize on teams with multiple RFA’s moving forward. Bergevin has now shown he is not afraid to use the offer sheet which will remain with him throughout the rest of his GM career. If a team had multiple RFA’s and limited cap room, you could try to trade for one by threatening to offer sheet the other. This is my crazy theory, but hear me out. Let’s say the Canadiens wanted to acquire one of Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp or Patrik Laine. Bergevin could call the Jets asking for Andrew Copp in a trade. If they refused, he could threaten to offer sheet Kyle Connor for the same value as what was given to Aho. The Jets would logically prefer to not give Connor that much as it would make the Laine contract more difficult. That said they would also not want to give up a player with 65 goals in the past 2 seasons up for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd. This would then force them to pay Connor 8.45, and Laine most likely slightly more, leaving very little room to re-sign Copp and still improve other areas of the team. So by approaching the Jets before the offer sheet, you increase the odds of a trade for Copp as they would likely have to give him up for less out of necessity after the Laine contract and Connor offer sheet. While technically any GM could threaten this, the fact Bergevin has now officially submitted an offer sheet, the threat becomes all the more realistic. This should not be taken as what I believe the Canadiens should do, rather as an example of what this offer sheet now allows the Canadiens to do.

Andrew Shaw Trade

The moment Andrew Shaw and Nicolas Deslauriers were traded, I immediately assumed it was to free up space for a player such as Matt Duchene or Anders Lee. Since both signed elsewhere, this may seem like a lost set of trades, however I think Shaw had less to do with Aho, and more to do with the prospects coming up. Going into the draft, I don’t think Bergevin intended on trading Shaw, however I don’t think he foresaw Cole Caufield being available at 15. Adding an elite scoring winger prospect to the organization opened up the possibility to trade away an NHL winger. I believe the team had every intention of taking a defenceman at 15, so the drafting of Cole Caufield changed the spectrum. My theory is if Poehling and/or Suzuki make the jump to the NHL, they can replace the role of Andrew Shaw in the lineup, and Caufield can fill the role of promising scoring forward that both Suzuki and Poehling were this past season. Marc Bergevin took advantage of having an abundance of NHL ready forwards and capitalized on Andrew Shaw’s elevated trade value. If he waited until next offseason to trade Shaw, his value could be lower, and it would prohibit one or both of Suzuki and Poehling to jump to the NHL. It also allows the Canadiens to still pursue other options on the open market.

Overall, this offer sheet can be seen two ways. You could either see it as a failed attempt to acquire one of the league's top young scorers for a marginal cost, or you could view it as Marc Bergevin trying to set his team up for success in a more creative way. Either way, the Canadiens didn't get Aho, and that's okay.

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