Colorado Avalanche Re-up or Dump: Ryan O’Reilly


Jan 27, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O

It is only about three months from the free agency interview period which starts on June 25, 2014 and ends on June 30. At that time, Colorado will have eight players who will be able to either re-sign with the team or leave for free agency. Among the players who have expiring contracts at that point, there are some integral pieces to the team (such as Paul Stastny, Andre Benoit, and Ryan O’Reilly) in addition to less valuable assets (John Mitchell, Marc-Andre Cliche, Jean-Sebastien Giguere). But one thing is for certain, general manager Greg Sherman and coach Patrick Roy will have their work cut out for them. Here are the eight players from Colorado who will be looking for a new contract in June and July:

  • Tyson Barrie, D, 22, RFA
  • Andre Benoit, D, 30, UFA
  • Marc-Andre Cliche, C, 26, UFA
  • Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, 36, UFA
  • Jamie McGinn, RW, 25, RFA
  • John Mitchell, C, 29, UFA
  • Ryan O’Reilly, C/LW, 23, RFA
  • Cory Sarich, D, 35, UFA
  • Paul Stastny, C, 28, UFA

With these players on the verge of becoming free agents, it is imperative that the brass negotiates with the right people at a swift pace. That is why I have decided to help them. In this series of articles, I will offer my own insight on the Avalanche’s free agents. In this first edition, I look at Ryan O’Reilly and his contract situation.

Current Contract Information: 2 years, $10 million (signed in January 2013)

Jan 24, 2014; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers goalie Tim Thomas (34) stops a shot by Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O

His Game: Ryan O’Reilly has been playing great hockey this year. One of Colorado’s finest, ROR has shown a knack for scoring but also has decent hands and is fourth on the team in points from goals and primary assists. He also averages the most time on ice per game among Colorado’s forwards. But it is his defensive game that makes him even more valuable. His shooting percentage is at an all-time high (21 goals on 138 shots) and he has notched five game winning goals for the Avs this season. Not only do the statistics favor him, but his play on ice is even better.

Colorado’s Interest: I see no situation where Colorado idly lets Ryan O’Reilly slip into free agency. If money becomes a problem, this is possible, but there are few reasons besides that. In addition, ROR has come out saying that he wants to return to Denver, saying:

"“I like it here. I want to play here. I want to stay here,” O’Reilly said. “But it’s just stuff you can’t control right now. It’s easier when you don’t have to worry about that stuff and just play the game, but I don’t control it. I just stay out of the business side ’til the season is over.”"

However, Rotoworld brings up a potential roadblock in the negotiations, namely that:

"“Ryan O’Reilly can become a restricted free agent in July and the Avalanche will need to qualify him at $6.5 million to retain his rights.” — Rotoworld"

Seeing as how the first round of negotiations after the 2012 season did not play out swimmingly, Sherman must make sure that he can lock up ROR long-term lest he wants to

A) tender him at $6.5 million and let his value increase in another contract year

B) tender him at $6.5 million and compete with another team in free agency that may overpay him due to increased salary cap

C) let him go to free agency without recompense

None of these options would be beneficial to Colorado. However, with the salary cap increasing substantially this year (from about $64.3 million to $71.1 million), maybe Sherman invests more money into keeping the forward corps together.

Will he be in Colorado at the end of the season? One possible option for Sherman is to trade ROR before the trade deadline in early-March. The team could fetch itself a very pretty penny because ROR is only 23 years old, has been performing very well lately (13 points in 14 games), and is a pending RFA, meaning that tendering him is simple, giving any team a shot at keeping him. Without any rumors on the topic yet, I suppose that  Colorado could work out a deal with a defensive team like Winnipeg, Toronto, or Florida, acquiring Zach Bogosian, Jake Gardiner, or Dmitry Kulikov, respectively, in the process.

Can Ryan O’Reilly replicate his success? Keep in mind that in mid-January he had 28 points in 43 games. It wasn’t until this past stretch of games when ROR started lighting up the opponent. Since he is only 23, ROR should have no problem eclipsing the 30-goal, 60-point mark that he is on pace to reach this year, but his fast-paced two-way game will only last as long as he stays fresh. I don’t believe that his play is the product of a contract year but rather his maturity into an elite two-way forward.

What will his next contract look like? What I normally do when predicting contracts is I look at related players and their contracts. Two players  very much remind me of Ryan O’Reilly: New Jersey’s Adam Henrique and Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell. After putting up a 51-point season in 74 games as a rookie (.689 points per game) followed by a not as strong 16-point season in 42 games, Henrique received a 4-year, $16 million extension. O’Reilly’s play is slightly better than Henrique, so about five million annually seems realistic. Then I looked at Scott Hartnell, who, in 2006-2007, put up 39-points in 64 games, a rate slightly lower than O’Reilly’s. (Keep in mind he was 25-years old at the time and was a bigger defensive presence than O’Reilly is.) At the end of the season, Hartnell hit free agency and accepted a 6-year, $25.2 million deal with Philadelphia. This type of deal ($4.2 million annually) is similar to what ROR will see if he hits free agency.

Projected Contract: Colorado tenders O’Reilly, matches 5 year, $27 million offer from Phoenix Coyotes

So what do you think? Will Ryan O’Reilly be in Colorado next season? Is my contract prediction accurate? Leave me a comment with your thoughts and look for my article about Paul Stastny’s future, which will be on Mile High Sticking tomorrow, February 17. Thanks for reading!