In 2019, Aho signed a restricted-free-agent offer sheet with the Canadiens for five years and $42 million, which the Hurricanes quickly matched. Last month, Carolina turned the tables and signed Montreal restricted free agent Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet, which the Canadiens opted not to match.
The signing bonus on Kotkaniemi’s contract offer was $20. Aho wears No. 20 with the Hurricanes. The reference was hard to miss.
“To be honest, it’s pretty funny to see a $20 signing bonus,” Aho told ESPN on Thursday, at the NHL Player Media Tour. “All jokes aside, we got a pretty good player.”
Aho and Kotkaniemi, who were both born in Finland, spoke over the phone during the offer-sheet process. Aho said he discussed real-estate options, restaurants and life in Raleigh with the 21-year-old center.
“We talked about general stuff. Trying to help him with some of the small things,” Aho said.
Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon told Sportsnet radio in Toronto this month that it was “silly” to assume the offer sheet was tendered for revenge. But he defended Carolina poking fun at the move through social media, including references to the $20 signing bonus.
“We’re all in the entertainment business and we don’t have a league if people aren’t entertained by it. So when it worked out the way it did, our philosophy organizationally on the business side is have as much fun, get as much attention as you can,” Dundon said.
Aho agreed, saying the fans have been buzzing about the offer sheet — and the newly forged rivalry between the teams.
“It got people talking. I think it’s going to be a good thing. It’s going to be fun playing them next year,” Aho said. “It’s part of the business. The social media is so huge these days. You don’t have to play a game and you already have a buzz.”