Blues Should Extend Ryan O’Reilly Soon

The St. Louis Blues have two major unrestricted free agents looming after the 2022-23 season. Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko will have their $7.5 million salary cap hits off the books once the season ends. They’ve already extended Robert Thomas for eight more seasons and Jordan Kyrou could be next, but O’Reilly must be towards the top of the list.

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O’Reilly’s value is still high even as his offensive numbers went down last season. The Blues must prioritize extending him; he’s set to be a top-six center for at least four more seasons heading into 2022-23.

His Play Style Will Age Well

O’Reilly is within the top two tiers of two-way centers in the NHL. The hallmarks of his game don’t revolve around speed or skating, which are parts that can deteriorate with age. Even as his offensive numbers dropped last season, his value didn’t go down much.

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

O’Reilly’s ability to use his stick in the defensive zone and win faceoffs are the two biggest reasons why his game will age well. He may not put up the same numbers that he did in 2018-19 with the Blues, but that isn’t the expectation anymore. Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar are prime examples of why two-way centers can be impactful into their mid-to-late 30s. While O’Reilly doesn’t have the elite offensive talent that Bergeron and Kopitar have, he still makes a large impact on the game.

As long as he is centering a line with Brandon Saad and Jordan Kyrou on his wing, he’ll have a huge impact on the future success of the Blues. O’Reilly has been top five for Selke Trophy voting in all four of his seasons in St. Louis, which measures the impact of a two-way forward. He won the award in 2018-19 after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player in the playoffs a month prior. There is no doubt in my mind that O’Reilly’s style will age well into the back-nine of his career.

Blues Can’t Lose Another Captain

The Blues have lost two captains in free agency over the past six seasons. That is a trend that can’t continue, especially when the Blues want to have a good reputation around the league. David Backes left after the 2015-16 season to join the Boston Bruins after five seasons as the captain in St. Louis. After that it was Alex Pietrangelo departing for the Vegas Golden Knights after the 2019-20 season after four seasons as captain.

O’Reilly has been a tremendous leader since taking over the captain role, and it would not make sense to let him walk after these four seasons he’s put together. The team appears to be as healthy as it’s ever been in terms of cohesiveness and chemistry. There is no reason to disrupt the current leadership group that the Blues have right now, and O’Reilly is the key component of it all.

Contract Won’t Be Overly Expensive

The contract for O’Reilly will be interesting to project with the term and cap hit. I wouldn’t expect anything over four years for the deal, as he will be 32 years old by next summer. The average annual value (AAV) will surely be based on how he performs in the 2022-23 season, but I don’t think it would be all that hard to project as of right now.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His current cap hit is $7.5 million from the deal he signed with the Buffalo Sabres prior to the 2015-16 season. I expect the cap hit to be lower than this as his offensive numbers have dipped a bit. Any cap hit around $5.5 million to $6.5 million would be reasonable in my view, barring a massive offensive season with 75 or more points. If he wants to go the team-friendly route with this extension, the Bergeron comparison would hold up. Bergeron’s last cap hit was $6.875 million, which was a huge discount for the Bruins.

Either way, the Blues can’t mess around with the negotiations for this deal like they did with David Perron. One of their top priorities should be extending O’Reilly and it would be a win for both sides to finalize it before the 2022-23 season begins. This is another way for general manager Doug Armstrong to get back into the good graces of some fans. It’s a move that makes sense for both sides and must get done sooner rather than later.