MONTREAL — I had a wonderful weekend that was filled with sunshine, laughter, golf, dinner with family and friends and … several questions about offer sheets.
I realize this topic, in the wake of the failed attempt by the Montreal Canadiens to get Sebastian Aho out of Carolina, isn’t going to go away anytime soon. It certainly isn’t going to die in and around these parts, where the Canadiens still have $7.5 million in cap space (closer to $11 million if Karl Alzner, Dale Weise and Matthew Peca begin next season in the American Hockey League ,as expected), several elite restricted free agents to choose from as targets and a roster that still needs to improve if it isn’t going to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third consecutive year. And I get that the rumour mill is currently churning at full speed.
The thing is, I just can’t get general manager Marc Bergevin’s words on the subject out of my head. Not the ones he spoke one week ago, when he explained why he signed Aho to a five-year, $42.27-million contract. Not the ones he released on Monday, either, a little less than 24 hours after the Carolina Hurricanes filed the official paperwork to match the deal.
No, I’m referring to the words Bergevin spoke to me when we sat down for a one-on-one interview last fall, the ones he repeated almost verbatim in his end-of-season press conference in April, the ones that make me laugh at the idea that he’ll shell out top dollar and four first-round picks for any one of Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor or Mitchell Marner.
I’m not saying it won’t happen. It’s hard to rule it out as a possibility, especially for a general manager and team that, of late, has taken home-run swings at signing big-name free agents only to whiff and throw the bat into their own dugout. Heck, it’s entirely possible Bergevin is so frustrated with the whole process that he’ll just go scorched earth and all-in down the offer-sheet path.
But it would require him throwing away everything he believes in on the subject, or everything he says he believes in, and I’d be shocked if he did that.
“There are several reasons you never see (top-tier offer sheets),” Bergevin said to me back in October. “First, you need to be able to offer those high-end guys an offer they’re willing to accept, and it has to be what the other team won’t accept. It has to be too much money. Then you have to give up the picks (four first-rounders).
“What if the player gets injured and you miss the playoffs by a couple of points and then the lottery happens and you end up in second or third like Philadelphia (the Flyers jumped from 13th to second in the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery)? Even if the player fits and is healthy, the parity in the league from year to year is so strong good teams are missing every year. We see teams who make the playoffs and then don’t make them a year later. Good teams.”
In short, Bergevin doesn’t believe it’s worth the risk, and that at least partially explains why the Aho offer sheet was structured in such a way that Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon and general manager Don Waddell both qualified matching it as an easy decision.
For Bergevin, who was gambling that Dundon might not want to go against his principles of not handing out bonus-laden, lockout-protected contracts ($21.17 million in signing bonuses are due in the first 12 months of Aho’s contract), offering higher compensation than the player was already willing to accept didn’t make much sense. Neither did giving up additional assets as compensation to the Hurricanes for walking away from the 21-year-old.
“We have players in the future we’ll need to take care of and that’s part of where at some point it becomes where it’s not worth it, where you get a contract that you don’t like even though you like the player,” Bergevin said last Monday. “You have to be at the right place.”
I can’t see Bergevin suddenly believing he’ll be in the right place giving any player more money than they’re worth and sacrificing four first-round picks on top of it — and that’s ignoring the financial hula hoops he’d have to jump through to keep the Canadiens under the $81.5-million upper limit of next season’s salary cap (Artturi Lehkonen, Joel Armia and Charles Hudon have all filed for arbitration and will eat up a fair chunk of the team’s current space if/when they re-sign).
He addressed a need when he added left-shooting defenceman Ben Chiarot to the fold late last week, and he acquired an energy player in Nick Cousins, who will help partially supplant what he gave up in cap-clearing deals that saw Andrew Shaw move to the Chicago Blackhawks and Nicolas Deslauriers move to the Anaheim Ducks. It’s not hard to imagine Bergevin continuing to manipulate the edges of his roster to improve in both areas between now and the 2019-20 regular season.
I can also see him trading for an impact forward. After missing out on Matt Duchene, who signed a seven-year, $56-million contract with the Nashville Predators last Monday, and after going for Aho in a move he said he hoped would send a message not only to Canadiens fans but also to Canadiens players, it’s not that farfetched to think Bergevin’s still in the market for one.
In a piece last week, I even expanded on one possibility Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently advanced. Others are sure to pop up as we approach next season.
But let’s just park the offer sheet stuff for now — at least until another one materializes and forces me to eat my words.