An offer sheet hadn’t been used by a team in the NHL since the 2013 season when Ryan O’Reilly received one from the Calgary Flames while his rights were held by the Colorado Avalanche (the deal was quickly matched by Colorado). Leading up to free agency this season, there had been talk about offer sheets, but the expected target was Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the rumours being that it was going to cost upwards of $10.5 million and four first-round picks, something that many experts deemed too high a price.
It was Marc Bergevin, who is traditionally viewed as a conservative manager, who revisited the offer-sheet approach, turning from Marner of the division-rival Toronto Maple Leafs to Sebastian Aho, which also came out of left field. However, this decision had many moving parts and a clear thought process behind it.
If we break down the situation, the first thing that stands out is that it is still a conservative offer; $8.454 million is just below the threshold (by a mere $750) for the next level that requires two first-round picks, a second, and a third. It is a clear thought process from Bergevin as to why he came up with that number: the Canadiens general manager believed that sacrificing one potential top prospect is okay, but not two.
By using bonus money in the structure of the contract, he offered the player a secure income in case of a lockout, while also forcing the Hurricanes to abandon their apparent policy of not awarding signing bonuses to players. By forcing the Hurricanes to break their own rule, and putting a $22.6 million bill on the table to be paid in the next 12 months, would put strain on other Hurricanes players’ contract negotiations down the line. With many young players approaching the end of their contracts, the Hurricanes may not want to open up that avenue of negotiation for the players. Montreal is in a different economic situation and can well afford to do a move like this, especially as they already hand out bonuses.
Offering a shorter deal, Bergevin gave the chance for Aho to cash in in relatively short order while still being in his prime. Coincidentally, the five years of the deal fit perfectly with the Stanley Cup window that Montreal wants to open with regard to Shea Weber and Carey Price’s careers. Bergevin knows that his own career in Montreal will be judged on that same window. He brought in Weber and signed Price, the offer sheet was the best chance he had to get another ace into his hand.
Working directly with Aho’s agent, Bergevin would have known that there were two other teams looking at the centreman. By tendering an offer sheet, the GM made sure that those two teams were out of the running and there would be no bidding war if it came down to trade negotiations with the Hurricanes, or potential competing offers that would be placed in front of Aho.
It was a min/maxed offer with little to no risk for Montreal; a tactical, targeted strike rather than an all-out blitz. If it doesn’t work out, and it appears that it won’t, the future of the Montreal Canadiens hasn’t been sacrificed. There are other ways of getting that ace player to keep the Cup window open, but it will be more costly in terms of players and/or picks.
The offer sheet was calculated, measured, and thought through. It was meant to put pressure on the Hurricanes’ ownership. If it had a proper chance to bear fruit is a completely different question, but Bergevin has not gambled away the future by targeting one of the best young players around.
The low-risk, high-reward approach is something that we have come to expect from Bergevin, but to use it in this way is something new, and it has sent a warning shot across the bow of the other clubs with restricted free agents that are still unsigned. Especially considering that it was circulated in media that Montreal had considered an offer sheet to Brayden Point, the rumour itself will mean that other RFAs might wait for Carolina to officially match the offer before signing with their respective teams, just to see if Montreal will come after them, too, with an enticing deal on the table.
Marc Bergevin turned to a page of the playbook that is seldom used, and used it for maximum effect and damage if it succeeded, but with no damage whatsoever to his own club if it doesn’t. This action in itself should be applauded.