RALEIGH, N.C. — Sebastian Aho knew when he saw the National Hockey League’s schedule come out that signing a five-year, $42.27-million offer sheet with the Montreal Canadiens in July was going to be a topic revisited on the opening day of the regular season.
But he made it clear on Thursday — as did Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour — that none of this will be a distraction once his team hits the ice come game-time.
“I knew I’d have to answer all these questions, but it’s the home opener,” Aho said. “It’s an exciting time (regardless).”
It’s an opportunity for the Hurricanes to break out of the gate and build on a magical 2018-19 season that saw them surprise as an entrant to the Eastern Conference Final; for them to integrate new players like Ryan Dzingel and Jake Gardiner; for them to test their mettle against a Canadiens team that they fought tooth and nail with to make it into last year’s playoffs. The offer-sheet saga, which drew the ire of Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, is behind this group.
At least that’s what Brind’Amour believes.
“That whole story is probably bigger on your guys’ end than it is for me,” the coach said. “I didn’t lose one minute of sleep over it, I knew what was going to happen. We weren’t going to lose the player, so …
“I don’t want to say we laughed that off. I got one text when it originally happened from one of my players and it was like, ‘Is this for real?’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it’ and (his response was), ‘Ok,’ and that’s the extent of it. So that stuff was business and that’s between agents and GMs and how they wield all that to work out.”
In matching the offer, the Hurricanes will pay Aho $21 million in signing bonuses over the first calendar year of his contract.
The calculation on Montreal’s end was that Dundon would be principally opposed to doing that and that he might react emotionally to his star player signing with another team and be willing to let him go for a compensation of a first-, a second-, and a third-round pick in the 2019 Draft.
Aho was relieved that didn’t end up being the case. He also said he never even considered what it might be like to play for the Canadiens.
“Actually it was a good thing that (deal) happened pretty fast because actually I went to bed right away (after signing) because it was night time back home and the next day I woke up and (knew) Carolina (would) match,” he said. “So that was good.”
For the Canadiens, it was disappointing.
“I was really excited when I saw we did that,” said Montreal defenceman Victor Mete on Thursday morning. “To add a great young player, a stud like that, it was an exciting idea.”
Canadiens coach Claude Julien had visualized having the native of Rauma, Finland, who had 30 goals and 83 points last season, in his lineup.
“I think when you do those kind of things it’s because you have a plan for a guy and I think that’s what we had,” said Julien.
“You don’t start overplanning, if you want to put it that way, with a player (and) not knowing whether he’s going to be there or not. But you don’t make an offer sheet to somebody saying, ‘Well, once we get him let’s figure out what we’re going to do with him.’ We were set and ready for that and unfortunately it didn’t work out.”
Aho and the Hurricanes appear thrilled it didn’t.
With his contract settled early on, it alleviated whatever concerns both he and the team had about a long, drawn-out negotiation that could have had him on the sidelines instead of in the starting lineup on opening night.
“It was really, really important to start camp on time and be here from Day 1,” Aho said. “It was nice to get the deal done quickly.”
He said there was no fence-mending to do with his teammates over signing with the Canadiens and that he texted a number of them in the immediate aftermath of it, and was happy to see they were all supportive and happy for him.
With that, Aho moved on.
And so did the Canadiens.
“At the end of the day, it didn’t happen,” said Montreal centreman Max Domi.
“It is what it is, but we have a great team in here and we’re happy with our team. I don’t know the kid at all, but I’m sure he’s happy with how things worked out. It makes no difference tonight. It’s going to be a fun game tonight. Big game for them, big game for us, and we both want to start our season off right. He’s a big part of that team and we’re going to key in on him a little bit.
“But we’re ready to go.”