RALEIGH — One would think the start of summer would mean downtime for everyone involved in the NHL.
Nope. No chance.
Since spring officially ended, the Hurricanes have made four trades involving NHL players, selected 12 players at the NHL Draft and hosted many of those players at the team’s development camp, re-signed one goalie and brought in three more to compete for two spots in net, and faced an offer sheet on their franchise player.
Summertime fun, indeed.
Heading into Monday’s opening of free agency, the Hurricanes had already shuffled around some of their lineup. Out were defenseman Calvin de Haan, goalie Scott Darling and prospects Alexei Saarela and Nicolas Roy, and in were Erik Haula, James Reimer, Gustav Forsling, Anton Forsberg and Patrick Marleau (and his planned buyout, for which Carolina landed a 2020 first-round pick).
But the real shock and awe came starting at 2:40 p.m. on Monday. That’s when Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said he found out the Montreal Canadiens had tendered an offer sheet to star center Sebastian Aho. The five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet — which left Waddell saying he was “actually surprised it wasn’t more” — gave Carolina seven days to match the contract or lose Aho to the Canadiens and receive Montreal’s first-, second- and third-round picks in the 2020 draft.
It took the Hurricanes less than 24 hours to decide to match it.
“It was so ridiculous in terms of probability of succeeding,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said Tuesday. “If it was a test, it was quite an easy one. Everyone’s trying to make their team better. We’ve looked at all the ways to make our team better, and never came to the conclusion that the offer sheet was the best way. Your probability of succeeding is almost zero. It was proven that it was a waste of time.”
Following Monday’s offer sheet, many speculated that the more than $20 million owed Aho in the first calendar year of the deal would be too much for the small market Hurricanes to handle.
“This sounds terrible, but writing that check is no big deal,” Dundon said, dispelling any notion the team’s billionaire owner’s pockets aren’t deep enough to handle the legendary Canadiens’ clout.
So despite the drama, the Hurricanes accomplished their main objective for the summer — getting Aho under contract, albeit unconventionally. The team also solidified its goaltending situation, re-signing Petr Mrazek late Monday to a two-year deal worth an average of $3.125 million. A year after splitting time with Curtis McElhinney — who signed a two-year contract to be the backup in Tampa Bay — Mrazek will be a clear-cut No. 1. AHL goalie of the year Alex Nedeljkovic will battle James Reimer and Anton Forsberg — both acquired via trade this offseason — for the back-up job.
Carolina also boosted its offense with the addition of Haula. The 28-year-old center is coming off a knee injury that limited him to just 15 games with Vegas last season, but he scored 29 goals for the Golden Knights two seasons ago and joins many familiar faces in Raleigh.
Haula was a linemate of Nino Niederreiter back when the two played in Minnesota, and he will also join fellow Finnish countrymen Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Saku Maenalanen.
“I actually looked at the roster and was like in my head, I thought, ‘Gosh, I know a bunch of the guys,’” Haula said.
On defense, the departure of de Haan opens a spot for Haydn Fleury or Jake Bean, and the only missing puzzle piece is what will happen with Justin Williams. There 37-year-old captain is still weighing whether or not he will come back for a 19th NHL season.
If he decides to come back, the Hurricanes’ forward corps should be complete. Martin Necas, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, should make the jump to the NHL and play the wing — thanks to the addition of Haula — while still working toward being a center down the road. If Williams moves on, Carolina will likely pursue another winger, either by trade or free agency, to fill out their attack.
While Williams’ decision will be a pivotal moment of the offseason — his partnership with coach Rod Brind’Amour was a key component in the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final — there was no bigger priority than locking up Aho.
“I’m relieved this is done and Sebastian doesn’t have to worry about this anymore,” Dundon said. “It’s nice to have it done.”