NHL free agency: Aho signs offer sheet with Montreal, Mrazek back in Carolina

Carolina Hurricanes
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Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (20), of Finland, is congratulated by Teuvo Teravainen (86), also of Finland, after his hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Opening day for NHL free agency saw a team swoop in to try and claim all-star forward Sebastian Aho from the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Montreal Canadiens became the first team since 2013 to dish out an offer sheet for a restricted free agent. They announced that Aho signed the offer sheet, which is for a five-year contract worth, on average, just shy of $8.5 million a season.

“He wants to come to Montreal,” said Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin. He sees our youngsters coming up in the organization and he wants to be a part of that. We’re proud, but there’s still a waiting period.”

That waiting period is due to the Hurricanes having a week to match the contract and keep Aho for five years at that value. During his media availability Monday afternoon, general manager Don Waddell made it sound like matching is an easy decision.

“It’s something we’ve talked about all along,” Waddell said. “We’ll make an announcement at some time here in the near future. But it’s certainly a surprise. I’m actually surprised it wasn’t more. In time, we will figure that out.”

As far as free-agent acquisitions go, the team announced Monday evening that goalie Petr Mrazek, who signed with the team last season on a one-year deal, inked a two-year contract with the Hurricanes.

The 27-year-old netminder was a primary factor in Carolina’s second-half surge that resulted in the team’s first playoff birth in a decade. He struggled for most of the first half of the campaign as he split starts with Curtis McElhinney.

By February, though, Mrazek took control of the starting role. After posting a .880 save percentage and 3.30 goals-against average in January, he rolled through February with a .932 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average.

Mrazek was 14-4-0 in his last 18 starts of the season. He went on to post a 5-5 record with a .894 save percentage and 2.73 GAA as the Hurricanes went to the Eastern Conference Final.

“Petr took a chance on himself with the deal he agreed to here last summer, and we were all rewarded with the tremendous season he put together,” said Waddell. “This solidifies our options at the goaltending position moving forward.”

McElhinney ended up signing as a free agent with Tampa Bay. With Mrazek likely the incumbent starter, James Reimer was brought in via a trade with Florida and restricted free agent Anton Forsberg was acquired in a trade with Chicago. They will likely compete for the backup role.

Alex Nedeljkovic, who backstopped the Charlotte Checkers to the Calder Cup championship, inked a new two-year deal with the franchise.

The team’s failed experiment with Scott Darling as a starter came to an end as he was shipped to the Panthers. They bought out his contract on Monday.

The Hurricanes added depth at the center position by trading for Erik Haula from Vegas. He combined for 60 points in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons before breaking out for 29 goals and 26 assists (55 points) in the Golden Knights’ inaugural campaign.

“We felt that we wanted another top-three centerman. We looked at the free-agent market and just felt that that player wasn’t there and we can make a trade for a player that we all like. Adding him and losing a few guys, we’ll probably look to supplement a little bit, but not as much as we’d need to,” Waddell said.

Haula only played 15 games last season. He suffered an injury to his right knee when he was hit along the boards in a game on Nov. 6, 2018. The specifics of the injury were never divulged, but the Golden Knights had said he was close to a return prior to their first-round elimination in the playoffs.

Haula has been above the 50-percent mark on faceoffs since his third season in the NHL. He’s proven he can contribute to both the power play and penalty kill.

“There’s a bunch of talent on this team, and it looks like the team is well-rounded and gets along well. That’s very important in a successful organization,” Haula said.

The team still has a few needs to address. Carolina will likely work to bring back veteran Justin Williams while all signs point to Micheal Ferland leaving as an unrestricted free agency.

With Greg McKegg signing with the New York Rangers and Calvin de Haan being sent to the Blackhawks, the remainder of Waddell’s work will likely be focused on plugging a gap or two at depth forward positions and bringing in another defenseman.

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