On July 1, restricted free agent Sebastian Aho signed an offer sheet from the Montreal Canadiens. On Sunday, the Carolina Hurricanes matched the offer sheet and Aho is now locked in on a five year deal worth $8.454 million per season.
Now that the drama surrounding the signing has subsided the big question for other teams with RFAs to sign – like Calgary Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk – is how the Aho signing will set the market for young forwards.
A brief comparison
Aho, 21, is a left shot forward from Rauma, Finland. He played primarily center in 2018-19, but spent much of the prior two seasons on the wing. He has 83 goals and 197 points over 242 games, with seasons of 24, 29 and 30 goals.
Tkachuk, 21, is a left shot forward from St. Louis, Missouri. He’s played exclusively on the wing over his three seasons. He has 71 goals and 174 points over 224 games, with seasons of 13, 24 and 34 goals.
A deeper dive
Over three seasons, Aho has played 3,433 minutes of five-on-five hockey – approximately 14.2 minutes per game. His Corsi For percentage is 54.99 (18th among all forwards with more than 1,000 minutes played) and 60.54% of his shifts begin in the offensive zone. His PDO is 1.006.
Aho has played primarily with Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal and a mixture of Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce. His five most frequent forward opponents are Sean Couturier, Anders Lee, Mats Zuccarello, Sidney Crosby and Josh Bailey, while his three most frequent defensive opponents are Ivan Provorov, Aaron Ekblad and Zach Werenski.
Tkachuk has played 2,945 minutes of five-on-five hockey – roughly 13.1 minutes per game. His Corsi For percentage is 56.76 (3rd among all forwards with more than 1,000 minutes played) and 48.97% of his shifts begin in the offensive zone. His PDO is 0.991.
Tkachuk has played primarily with Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. His five most frequent forward opponents are Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Joe Pavelski, while his three most frequent defensive opponents are Brent Burns, Cam Fowler and Brenden Dillon.
Aho has played more at even strength and has buried his chances more frequently – his on-ice shooting percentage is a full percentage point higher than Tkachuk’s. Tkachuk’s deployments have been rougher in terms of starting considerably more shifts in the defensive zone, but the quality of competition he’s faced is roughly similar to Aho’s and Tkachuk has had the benefit of playing with perpetual Selke contender Backlund and reigning Norris winner Giordano during his young career. Aho’s had a bit less to work with.
Setting the market
Centers tend to get paid more than wingers (due to their increased defensive responsibilities) and goal-scorers tend to get paid more than non-scorers. On a five year deal, Aho’s $8.454 million AAV would be downgraded a little bit because Tkachuk is exclusively a winger and then downgraded slightly more due to Aho having more showy offensive stats than Tkachuk.
A case can be made that Tkachuk is a better two-way player than Aho and has shown better possession stats with tougher deployments, which would bump up his value. But a case can also be made that Tkachuk has more help from effective two-way players on his team than Aho does.
If nothing else, Aho’s new deal sets a ceiling on what can reasonably be paid to Tkachuk over a five year period in the current marketplace. It would be extremely difficult to justify a deal that has Tkachuk’s cap hit north of $8.454 million. If nothing else, a five year deal would land somewhere around $8 million.