Ryan O’Reilly Contract: Played his Last Avalanche Game?


The Ryan O’Reilly contract situation has been so discussed that it would almost be a relief if he were traded. The Colorado Avalanche center has just one year left on the two-year contract he signed with the team last summer.

Ryan O’Reilly Contract Negotiations and Distraction

We all know how the contract came about. Ryan O’Reilly wanted more money, the Avalanche front offices wanted to pay him less — the exact same thing had happened two years before. The team took O’Reilly to salary arbitration, they made an eleventh hour deal on the literal doorstep of the arbiter’s office, and O’Reilly walked away with a two-year, $12 million contract.

Just one season after that contentious battle, the Ryan O’Reilly contract is the center of debate again. O’Reilly is set to make $6 million next season, same as “structure” player center Matt Duchene. After that, he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Colorado Avalanche general manager and president of hockey operations, Joe Sakic, said in a late season press conference that extending the Ryan O’Reilly contract was “top priority” for the team in the off-season. Sakic also stated that the team would not go through the “distraction” of having a player in contract negotiations during the season, à la Paul Stastny last season.

The implications were clear — the Avalanche were going to sign O’Reilly to a long-term contract extension, or they were going to trade him.

Potential Landing Spots for Ryan O’Reilly

Ryan O’Reilly was fifth on the Avalanche in scoring with 17 goals and 55 points. O’Reilly has certainly had better years, including that glorious 2013-14 season (28 goals, 64 points), but memories are notoriously short in contract negotiations.

That said, O’Reilly is a solid two-way center with excellent puck possession and turnover statistics. Many teams in the NHL would consider him a valuable asset, one worth overpaying a little if they had the cap space.

The Calgary Flames have the cap space. They obviously have a solid centerman in Jiri Hudler, and Sean Monahan is no slouch. However, they’re not as deep in the center position as a playoff team should be. And after this season’s playoff run, they’ve got to be hungry for more playoff time. It’s not unthinkable that they’d throw $6.75 to $7 million at O’Reilly — they offered for him before, after all.

The Arizona Coyotes have plenty of cap space. They also didn’t have a single player who scored more than 43 points — and most of them were in the 30s or lower. While they’re not really playoff material yet, O’Reilly would be a welcome addition to their offense.

The Ottawa Senators are in a similar position to the Flames in that they have cap space and a lack of depth at the center position — and a hankering to go further in the playoffs.

In short, there would be plenty of teams who would offer O’Reilly beaucoup bucks if he came onto the free agency market. They might just be the teams willing to trade for he final year of the Ryan O’Reilly contract — and a chance to woo him into signing long-term with them.

What the Avs Might Offer O’Reilly

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The Colorado Avalanche have about 75¢  in cap space. I jest — they have a bit more. If the salary cap increases to $71 million like expected, the Avalanche have roughly $12 million free. Even if it stays at the current $69 million, that still gives them $10 million, according to Sportrac.

That said, it’s highly unlikely that the Colorado Avalanche will overpay on the Ryan O’Reilly contract. They’re not going to throw big money at him. Joe Sakic stated quite clearly last summer that the Avs have their “structure” and Patrick Roy all but admitted that meant no one could make more than premier center Matt Duchene.

Belonging to the schoolyard “what’s right is right, what’s fair is fair school,” I agree with that. O’Reilly is not a better player than Duchene. He doesn’t contribute more to the team. He shouldn’t get more money. Indeed, next season he’s going to make the same as Duchene, even though he probably won’t produce as much.

As of right now, O’Reilly makes the same amount as San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture. Couture has had four 50+ point seasons, two of those 60+ point seasons. That’s roughly similar to O’Reilly.

Edmonton Oilers center Jordan Eberle is a similar talent making similar money. You could argue Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Stall is a mite better, as is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Yet both of them make similar money to O’Reilly.

It’s a safe bet the Avalanche will want to lock O’Reilly into a contract similar to Duchene’s, five years at $30 million. It seems more than fair for the Avalanche and for O’Reilly as an Avalanche.

However, I strongly suspect Ryan O’Reilly will not accept it. He knows he might be able to make more money elsewhere, and he’s already shown that’s a motivator for him.

So, as an Avalanche fan, I value Ryan O’Reilly and hope he decides to extend his contract with the team. However, looking at the situation, I fear O’Reilly may well have played his last game in a Colorado Avalanche uniform.

Next: Duchene Explains Avs Season

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