Ryan O’Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche are headed to a salary arbitration hearing on July 23 after failing to agree on a new long term contract. O’Reilly will be presented with the option of a one or two year deal to stay with the Avalanche. After that, the two sides will live happily ever after. Ok, probably not.
Instead the two sides will put up with each other for that year or two before O’Reilly finishes up his contract and decides whether or not he wants to return to Denver or test the free agent market. Given how Avalanche management has treated him over these past couple of years, free agency probably doesn’t sound so bad. At that point, the Avs risk losing O’Reilly for nothing, something that they just went through with Paul Stastny and likely don’t want to repeat, or trade him between now and the end of his contract.If they trade him at the trade deadline prior to his contract ending, other teams have the leverage. They’ll know that O’Reilly won’t be returning to the Avs and, instead of giving up valuable pieces to acquire his services for a potential playoff run, they’ll just wait it out and go after him when he hits the market. For example; look how the Thomas Vanek scenario played out in New York this past season. He was the big fish at the NHL trade deadline but everyone knew that he wouldn’t re-sign with the Islanders. So when the deadline came, NHL GMs played a game of chicken with Islanders GM Garth Snow. Either Snow would have to accept a less than fair trade for a proven NHL scorer or risk losing Vanek for nothing. In the end, Snow blinked and received a second round pick and prospect Sebastian Collberg from the Montreal Canadiens for Vanek. Keep in mind that Snow dealt Matt Moulson, a first round pick, and a second round pick to Buffalo for Vanek just five months before trading him to Montreal. The longer the Avs hold on to O’Reilly, the more his value decreases.
Ryan O’Reilly is coming off his best season as a pro and his value is at an all-time high. Not only that, but most suspect that his value will continue to increase over the years. But let’s just say that O’Reilly’s play doesn’t hold up. Let’s just say that O’Reilly doesn’t score 20+ goals in the next year or two. How much would a team be willing to give up for a guy that’s not putting up points? While Ryan O’Reilly may always be a defensive pest and smart two-way player, guys are valued by their point production. There’s no guarantee that O’Reilly’s point production will remain the same. However, if his production does increase and his value gets higher, the Avs run into the aforementioned “Vanek scenario.”
So, should the Avs hold on to him, hope that all will be forgiven in a year or two and he signs a long term deal with Colorado? Should they hold on to him, try smooth things over, and deal him for less than market value if they can’t work out a new contract? Or should they trade him now when his value is high and just wash their hands with the whole situation?
For the sake of this column; let’s assume they trade him now. Who exactly could they get in return?
From Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov
I’m sure Avs fans would much rather have Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle (I know I would), but those two are likely untouchable for Edmonton. So why not Yakupov? He’s been labeled as a bit of a bust, but the kid is only 20 years old and hasn’t exactly played two a top notch center in his NHL career. Put him on the wing of Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon and there’s no reason why Yakupov can’t show the skill that made him the first overall pick in 2012. Yakupov is on the final season of his rookie contract, and unless he put up huge numbers in his final season, would give the Avs plenty of cap relief now and moving forward. The Oilers might be hesitant to make this move because they’re already paying Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins $6 million per season, but they’ve been desperately seeking that second center, and Boyd Gordon, who the Oilers might throw in just to get cap relief, isn’t exactly the answer.
From New York Rangers: Marc Staal
Despite acquiring Brad Stuart in the offseason, the Avs blueline is still a little shaky. Marx Staal would definitely help balance things out. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so this might be a little risky for the Avs, but I’m confident that they could sign him to a new deal and he’d be cheaper to pay than Ryan O’Reilly. The Rangers won the Eastern Conference last season, but lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final mainly because they couldn’t match the Kings top players. While a top line of Derek Stepan, Martin St. Louis, and Rick Nash is a strong unit, they aren’t great beyond those three and lost a lot of their depth guys in the offseason. O’Reilly fills an immediate need and they can afford to part with Staal due to their defensive depth.
From Toronto Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri
The other option here is James Van Riemsdyk, but Nazem Kadri is much more likely to be dealt as Van Riemsdyk is coming off his best season as a pro and finally appears to be living up to his potential. The Maple Leafs have been searching for a top center to play with Phil Kessel ever since they acquire Kessel in 2009. Right now that honor belongs to Tyler Bozak, but I don’t think anyone is sold on him being “the guy” in Toronto. Ryan O’Reilly could definitely be that guy, bumping Bozak down to the second line, where he’s much more suited. Kadri is only 23, and while he’d have to move to the wing in Colorado, he could definitely thrive as long as he buys in. He would be a restricted free agent after this season and the Avs would have to pay him $2.9 million to retain his rights, but he’d still cost less long term than O’Reilly.
From Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane
Evander Kane has been on the Jets trading block of awhile as the relationship between him and Jets management has become strained. That sounds familiar. Kane hasn’t exactly lived up to his potential since being drafted one slot behind Matt Duchene in 2009, but that could be having to move to a different city and country two years after being drafted, playing in a bad system, or never playing with a good center. The Jets know they don’t have much leverage seeing as teams know that Kane wants out, so if the Avs offered up Ryan O’Reilly, wouldn’t they have to jump at that? They’d get a top line center and get rid of a headache in Kane. Obviously for the Avs, Kane would step in and immediately replace O’Reilly with the hopes that he matures into the player he was projected to be. Kane is under contract until 2018 with a cap hit of $5.25 million. Even if that seems a little high, it’s less than what O’Reilly is asking for.
From Arizona Coyotes: Keith Yandle
Keith Yandle is a premier defenseman in the league and would immediately be a top-two guy on Colorado while Ryan O’Reilly provides some much needed scoring to the Coyotes. Arizona might be a little hesitant on this deal though just because they feel that they have a solid group of centers with Antoine Vermette, Sam Gagner, and Martin Hanzal. Are any of those three better than Ryan O’Reilly? I don’t think so, but unless O’Reilly remains on the wing or one of those players is willing to move to the wing, O’Reilly might not be a fit in Arizona. Yandle is under contract for two more seasons at $5.25 and would be tough to re-sign for less.
From Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers
Tyler Myers was rumored to be on the block after the 2013 season, but he had a bounce back year this past season on a very poor Sabres team. It might take the Avs a little more than just Ryan O’Reilly to pry the Sabres top defenseman from Buffalo, but Avalanche management seems pretty willing to throw in draft pick sweeteners to get who they want. Myers is only 24 and is locked up until 2019 at $5.5 million per season.