I always thought the St. Louis Blues would be at a crossroads with Ryan O’Reilly at some point this season. I believe that the Blues should trade him to receive assets in return. Losing him for nothing would be a bad move for the franchise, especially for the future. If the Blues stay out of contention, then trading him is the best move. Rentals like O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Ivan Barbashev should all be dealt in that scenario.
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Although I believe O’Reilly’s game will age relatively well, I don’t think the Blues will re-sign him given their recent track record. That track record is letting their last two captains, Alex Pietrangelo and David Backes, walk for nothing. I’m not saying that the Blues were wrong in letting them go, but they need to get something back in return this time. For this piece, I’ll be covering three trade destinations that make the most sense for both the Blues and O’Reilly. I understand that the Blues could still contend in the weak Western Conference, but they need to trade O’Reilly if they don’t.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The top destination for O’Reilly is north of the border with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have a high-powered offense with two of the best players in the league right now: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. While they have Matthews and John Tavares down the middle, O’Reilly brings a different element. Elite teams need a quality group of centers, and the Maple Leafs could benefit greatly from adding the 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
The Blues could also fetch a nice return for him from the Maple Leafs. The best package possible would likely center around a 2023 first-round pick and winger Nick Robertson. Robertson was a second-round pick in the 2019 Draft and has shown flashes in 31 career games. He is still only 21 years old and would have more opportunities in St. Louis to grow his game right now. Robertson is undersized, but he could fit in well if the Blues decide to retool their roster for the future. He was ranked as the Maple Leafs’ number two prospect heading into the 2022-23 season, per The Hockey Writers Alex Hobson.
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Another package could center around Alex Kerfoot, Robertson, and a first-round pick. Kerfoot will be a free agent after this season, but he would be cheaper and easier to re-sign if the Blues go that route. He can play center or wing and had 51 points last season. The phone call between Blues general manager Doug Armstrong and Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas should start with Robertson and a first-round pick. If they start there, it could be an easier deal to work through than expected.
The Blues likely don’t want to trade O’Reilly to one of their biggest division rivals. However, if the Colorado Avalanche produce an elite package for him, they have to consider it. The first-round pick in any O’Reilly trade would likely be toward the end of the first round, but the Blues have succeeded in that area of the draft before. One prospect from the Avalanche that could be involved in a deal is 2021 first-round pick Oskar Olausson. He was the 28th overall pick in the 2021 Draft and made his NHL debut this season. He was in the top five prospects list for the Avalanche before this season from Len Vlahos of The Hockey Writers.
A fair deal for the Blues could be Olausson, a first-round pick, and a third-round pick. I could see the Blues fetching a second-round pick, but that could be in 2024 or 2025. Olausson would be a fantastic prospect to have for the inevitable Blues retool. He would join Jimmy Snuggerud, Jake Neighbours, and others as quality forward prospects in the Blues pipeline. Keep in mind that they would need to retain salary on any O’Reilly deal, especially with cap-strapped contenders. Although I don’t want them to trade him to a direct division rival, a package like this could be hard to turn down. It would also be interesting to see him return to Colorado under another regime after how his first tenure ended there.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils got off to a terrific start to the 2022-23 season. They have since fallen off a bit with a 22-11-2 record and now sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division. Obviously, they are set down the middle with their top two centers – Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. The Devils are an inexperienced team, especially in their forward group. Bringing in the experience of O’Reilly could work well for them in the playoffs.
The Devils have a wealth of draft capital and prospects to trade. The Devils also have their first and second-round picks over the next three drafts. If the Blues wanted to go with a return of prospects and picks, winger Arseni Gritsyuk could be the answer. Gritsyuk was a fifth-round pick in the 2019 Draft but was ranked as the preseason fourth-overall prospect in the New Jersey system, per Alex Chauvancy of The Hockey Writers. Gritsyuk has put together impressive numbers at a young age in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He had 28 points in 39 games last season and has 24 points in 44 games this season.
If the Blues could fetch Gritsyuk and premium draft picks in an O’Reilly deal, that would make sense for both sides. The Devils have a lot of quality prospects, so they could make this deal and not worry about losing depth.
There are other teams that could make a play for O’Reilly, such as the Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, or Florida Panthers, but the three I listed here make the most sense in my view. I have no doubt that the Blues need to trade O’Reilly if they don’t plan on re-signing him next summer. I still think the Blues are interested in bringing O’Reilly back with an extension, but the price may not be in their favor.