Blues O’Reilly Earning Extension with Playoff Performance

Whether the St. Louis Blues’ season ends on Friday night, or they complete an unlikely comeback on Sunday and live to see another round, the offseason will arrive sooner or later. And on July 1, the team will have its first opportunity to extend captain Ryan O’Reilly, whose seven-year, $52.5 million contract — signed with the Buffalo Sabres in 2015 — will expire after the 2022-23 season.

Related: Blues Should Prioritize O’Reilly, Kyrou, and Thomas in Long-Term Plans

Based purely on his regular-season performance — which may have been significantly affected by his bout with COVID-19 — some thought that the team might consider moving on from O’Reilly after the contract ended. After all, the Blues have allowed his two predecessors as captain, David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo, to depart in unrestricted free agency (UFA). But O’Reilly’s performance so far in the playoffs, whatever the final outcome, has proven that the team should act quickly to make sure he has a long-term future in St. Louis.

O’Reilly Leading the Blues in the Postseason

When O’Reilly arrived with the Blues in the 2018-19 season, he quickly became a central player, the best producer on offense in what looked like a doomed season. But when the postseason arrived, he managed to find another level, and ultimately won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoffs MVP after recording 23 points in 26 games. Of course, the Blues have an unlikely road to travel to even be considered for having a Conn Smythe candidate, but judging through 11 games, O’Reilly is likely the team’s postseason MVP once again.

O’Reilly leads all Blues forwards in time on ice, which is no surprise. What is slightly more surprising is that, after a season where he finished seventh amongst Blues forwards in points, he now sits second in the playoffs. He’s trailing only David Perron, his close friend and linemate, with whom he’s connected on countless scoring plays. He had a seven-game point streak that became the fourth-longest playoff point streak in franchise history, and his five-consecutive game goal streak matched a franchise playoff record as well.

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But O’Reilly’s impact is never entirely in the offensive zone. Thanks to his incredible two-way play, he has largely neutralized Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon — until his impressive hat trick in Game 5. MacKinnon scored a goal in each of the Avalanche’s first-round games against the Nashville Predators, but his scoring touch immediately dried up when opposite O’Reilly. Beyond all that, there is the unquantifiable impact of his captaincy and leadership off the ice. The team managed to come back from a 3-0 deficit in an elimination game, and while we might never know for sure, it’s hard to imagine O’Reilly didn’t play a major role in that turnaround.

Blues Have to Keep Their Captain

O’Reilly’s postseason performance erases any doubt that might have built up during his somewhat-lackluster regular season. Though the Blues have allowed captains to walk in the past, his is a different case. Backes was a physical player who clearly wouldn’t age gracefully, and there’s no question they’re thankful for the decision to let him leave. Pietrangelo demanded a lot of money and a no-movement clause, which the team hasn’t historically wanted to offer. They might rather have him back, but they have certainly made some good moves with the cap space, like signing Torey Krug and trading for Pavel Buchnevich. Plus, they believed they had something of a replacement in house with right-handed defenders Justin Faulk and Colton Parayko waiting in the wings.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues Winter Classic
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues Winter Classic (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

There is no O’Reilly replacement waiting in the wings for the Blues now. There are few replacements in the entire league. Robert Thomas is maturing into a fantastic young center, but he is still arguably a liability on defense, and certainly not the asset that O’Reilly is. Brayden Schenn is aging and a tier below O’Reilly or Thomas, and any other center options would be expensive, either in free agency or on the trade market.

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The Blues have to re-sign O’Reilly. Even at 31-years-old, with his legendary discipline and training regimen, his game will age gracefully. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll bleed the Blues for top dollar, considering the legacy he will solidify in St. Louis if he stays. The team doesn’t want to lose every emblematic player from the Stanley Cup era, and allowing three captains in a row to walk in free agency wouldn’t be the best look for the organization. There are plenty of reasons for the team to recommit to their captain, and few reasons not to. They should go ahead and get it done this offseason, so they avoid the drama that accompanied Backes’s and Pietrangelo’s departure.

O’Reilly and Perron: Better Together

This summer, Perron is set to be a UFA. Normally, there wouldn’t be a good argument for a team re-signing a 31-year-old and a 33-year-old to simultaneous multi-year contracts. But in this case, it’s almost unavoidable. The duo is leading the team in postseason points and has formed a terrific line with whatever partner head coach Craig Berube has assigned them ever since they joined (and re-joined, in Perron’s case) the team prior to the 2018-19 season. Yes, they will age, and they won’t be as good at the end of these contracts as they are now. But they’re too good now for the team to be worrying about how they’ll look in three or four seasons. They need to try to re-sign both players this summer, or else their top six will look radically different in the near future.