This week is a big week for the future of the Carolina Hurricanes, for more reasons than one.
While much of the core of the team’s near and distant future is competing for a trophy in Traverse City, the team’s current most valuable asset is in Raleigh preparing for a new season and is potentially on the verge of a massive contract extension.
During the summer, rumors surfaced that the Hurricanes were discussing a contract extension for young star forward Sebastian Aho, who is scheduled to be a restricted free agent after the 2018-19 season.
Those talks were put on the back burner, but now the two sides are working again to hammer out a deal that keeps Aho in Raleigh for as long as eight seasons beyond this upcoming campaign.
The potential cap number for a player like Aho is bound to rival some of the largest in the franchise’s history, like Canes legends Eric Staal and Jeremy Welsh.
All kidding aside, though, this deal has potential to be in the realm of Staal’s $8.25 million cap hit, and with a potential lockout looming over the horizon, the money distribution could look really interesting.
“He’s in town now and we’ll pick up talks,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said to Tom Gulitti Friday. “We had some talks in the summertime, but just felt it wasn’t the right time. So now that he’s back, we’d like to put some time into [it], and I think they feel the same way. Hopefully we can come out of here with a resolution.”
Getting a deal done prior to October 4 eliminates a lot of distractions that could come up throughout the season and, given how the Tom Dundon era has been perceived thus far, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go ahead and rid themselves of a “the Hurricanes are too cheap to give their best player an extension” narrative before it even has an opportunity to start.
Additionally, giving Sebastian Aho a vote of confidence couldn’t hurt. He is this team’s best player, and his short absence last season took a noticeable toll on the offensive production of the team as a whole.
Signing a long-term deal before the season has its clear benefits, but it also has its risks.
We don’t yet know what Aho’s ceiling is. His first two years in the league have seen him get better and better, seemingly on a daily basis. From December 23 to March 30, he had 21 goals and 41 points over the course of 40 games while averaging 17:32 of ice time per game. Is his ceiling that of a 60 or 70-point player or something even more?
I would debate that his best is still yet to come, but I and many others said that about Victor Rask, as well. While Rask still has time to turn it around, what looked like a great contract a few years ago hasn’t looked nearly as good over the past year and a half. Though, I think the differences between Aho and Rask are fairly clear. Aho is already a star in this league, while Rask has never reached a level beyond that of a second-line center.
With that in mind, perhaps the biggest question for Dundon, Waddell, and company to answer is; is he a center or a winger? Aho spent all summer playing and dominating as a center in international play and preparing to be a center in the NHL. So, will the team pay him as a great winger, or as a great center? One would think that the latter would result in a more lucrative pay day for the 21-year-old.
At the end of the day, though, players like Sebastian Aho aren’t common. You rarely find a player like him in the first round, let alone in the second round or beyond. And for that reason, the Hurricanes have to be willing to open their wallet and get a long-term deal done. Preferably, in short order.
After all the offseason turnover, which involved the trading of two players (Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin) that the Canes deemed not worth their asking prices in an extension and the trading of the former face of the franchise in Jeff Skinner, it would be wise for them to go ahead and splurge on a player who, with the help of an assortment of other young players, has a chance to take this team from a perennial disappointment to a legitimate contender.
Regardless of the deal, the Canes should consider it a win if they are able to assure the fanbase that their best player will be a part of this organization for upwards of nine more years, starting October 4 against the New York Islanders.