RALEIGH — In an otherwise wild two-plus hours that saw millions of dollars thrown around the NHL landscape — often recklessly — everything was pretty quiet for the Carolina Hurricanes at the onset of the free agency period on Monday.
Then everything happened.
The biggest happening was the Montreal Canadiens signing Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet worth an average of $8.454 million annually. Carolina will have seven days to match the offer otherwise, the team will lose Aho to Montreal and receive the Canadiens’ first-, second- and third-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell didn’t seem concerned. Waddell, meeting with the media at 3 p.m., said the team received word of the offer sheet just 20 minutes earlier.
“I’m actually surprised it wasn’t more,” Waddell said of the offer to Aho, a restricted free agent.
Carolina will now get to weigh whether or not Aho is worth the contract — and the more than $21 million poison pill in bonuses that the team that lands Aho will have to shell out in the first year of the deal. Popular opinion is the team will match and assume the contract that the soon-to-be-22-year-old signed with Montreal.
Aho finished tied for 21st in NHL scoring with 83 points last season, his third in the NHL after Carolina selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft.
Then just before 6 p.m., Waddell and the Hurricanes resolved their goaltending void by re-signing Petr Mrazek to a two-year contract that will pay him an average of $3.125 million. AHL goaltender of the year Alex Nedeljkovic and two recently acquired players — James Reimer and Anton Forsberg — will compete for the other spot on the Carolina roster.
A logjam that included Mrazek, Robin Lehner and Semyon Varlamov jockeying for two starting jobs — with the Hurricanes and Islanders — was resolved when Varlamov landed in New York on a four-year deal, Lehner signed for a year in Chicago, and Mrazek returning to the team he helped guide to the Eastern Conference Final last season.
Mrazek, 27, was 23-14-3 with a .914 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average in his first season with Carolina, joining Curtis McElhinney in a tandem that eventually led to Scott Darling’s exit from the team.
McElhinney, also a free agent, got a two-year deal from Tampa Bay worth $1.3 million annually. Mrazek more than doubled his annual salary with Carolina after being paid $1.5 million last season.
The team’s success saw many of its organizational role players earn new deals elsewhere.
Greg McKegg, who jumped into a fourth-line role midseason and proved a valuable depth player for Carolina, agreed to a deal with the Rangers. Charlotte Checkers Andrew Poturalski (Anaheim), captain Patrick Brown (Vegas) and Tomas Jurco (Edmonton) are all headed elsewhere. Video coach L.J. Scarpace also took a job with the Detroit Red Wings.
There’s still more work to be done. The first order of business will be making a decision on Aho. Carolina must also find out whether captain Justin Williams plans to play another season and, if he does, come to terms on a new contract. If Williams retires or moves on, Carolina could explore adding another forward. The Hurricanes could also explore adding a depth defenseman, and the team will likely also make some minor-league additions to fill out the Checkers roster.
Furthermore, the Hurricanes need to hire a new goalie coach and AHL head coach, but the team did at least get new deals ironed out for the broadcast team of John Forslund, Tripp Tracy and Mike Maniscalco.