Throughout June, theScore will be projecting contracts for the star-studded restricted free-agent class. In this edition, we project Sebastian Aho's new deal.
What made Aho's most recent campaign so impressive is that he switched from playing left wing in his first two seasons to playing center in 2018-19. Centers are more valuable on the ice and are generally paid accordingly.
Aho has proven to be a hard-working, two-way player with a dynamic offensive skill set. He's quickly become the face of the Hurricanes franchise.
The Hurricanes are in a pretty enviable position. Fresh off its first playoff appearance in nine years and a miracle run to the Eastern Conference Final, Carolina has $28.7 million in cap space to work with. Outside of Aho, the Hurricanes' only key free agents are goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney and forwards Justin Williams and Micheal Ferland.
Considering Aho's importance to the franchise, an eight-year deal seems like a strong possibility. At max term, Aho's cap hit would rise, but the Hurricanes have the room to make it work. However, as a small-market team, it's unclear what the organization's actual budget is.
Here's a select list of centers who signed contracts out of restricted free agency in the last few years:
|Player||Cap hit||CH%||Length||Year signed|
|Auston Matthews||$11.634M||14.6||5 years||2019|
|Dylan Larkin||$6.1M||7.7||5 years||2018|
|Jack Eichel||$10M||13.33||8 years||2017|
|Leon Draisaitl||$8.5M||11.3||8 years||2017|
|Ryan Johansen||$8M||10.67||8 years||2017|
|Connor McDavid||$12.5M||16.67||8 years||2017|
|Evgeny Kuznetsov||$7.8M||10.4||8 years||2017|
CH% = Cap hit percentage, based on cap ceiling when the contract was signed
Despite being chosen 33 picks ahead of Aho in the 2015 draft, Eichel might offer the best comparison. Aho's 0.81 points per game in his first three seasons is less than Eichel's 0.85 mark, but Aho's 1.01 points per game in his contract year is better than Eichel's 0.95 in his.
Draisaitl is also on this list despite splitting time between center and wing during his career. He offers an interesting comparison after averaging 0.94 points per game in his contract year.
With ample cap space, it makes sense for the Hurricanes to lock up their best player for as long as possible. As was the case with the majority of the names listed above, it seems like there's a high probability of an eight-year deal.
The cap hit is tougher to gauge, though. Aho's value is much higher than it was a year ago after his smooth transition to the middle of the ice, so anything between $9 million and $11 million could be in the cards.
Verdict: 8 years, $82 million ($10.25 million AAV, 12.35 CH%)
Others in this series: