Canadiens & O’Reilly: Is It Worth It?

With how bad the Montreal Canadiens are up the middle, it’s par for the course that they are often included as a destination in trade rumours involving top centres from around the league. Naturally, with Buffalo Sabres centre Ryan O’Reilly being a prime candidate to be traded, the Habs are one of the most frequently discussed teams for his services. O’Reilly is a strong, two-way centre, who is solid in all facets of the game — exactly the kind of player the team needs. However, is it worth it for the Habs to go after O’Reilly?

Pros: O’Reilly Is the Player They Need

There are many pros to acquiring O’Reilly. A legitimate centre who can play on the top two lines, O’Reilly would fill one of the Habs’ biggest needs. He isn’t a huge scorer per se, but consistently scores in the 55-65 point range, playing in all situations. His defensive game and possession stats are solid, and he is excellent on faceoffs. He has produced playing on good and bad teams, and is a player who can be matched up against the other teams’ best.

Ryan O'Reilly Sabres
Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

In short, O’Reilly is the kind of player who could, hypothetically, step in and be one of Montreal’s best players right off the bat. For whatever reason, the Habs struggle to develop centres — even their best prospects such as Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling are a year or two away at best. The last really good centre the Habs drafted and developed in house is Tomas Plekanec, and he’s now 35-years-old. The fact that the organization hasn’t developed anyone as good as him in that time is astounding. Unlike a prospect, O’Reilly could step in and alleviate a lot of the pressure at centre off of Jonathan Drouin.

As it stands, the centres for Montreal going into next season are Drouin, Phillip Danault (unsigned RFA), Jacob de la Rose (unsigned RFA) and Byron Froese. No matter how you spin it, no team with playoff aspirations can be taken seriously with a centre corps like that. O’Reilly alone wouldn’t solve that problem, but he would make it look more respectable. He is the kind of player that would fit into what the Habs seem to be looking for, and fill that enormous gap of having a player down the middle who plays big minutes.

Cons: Is He Worth the Price Tag?

The biggest con of O’Reilly would be the price to get him. Top centres are hard to find and not always available. And when they are, the price tends to be very high. If the reported ask of a top prospect, a first rounder and maybe a young roster player is true, it’s a price the Habs can’t afford to pay. The team is fresh off a strong draft that helped refill a prospect pool that was desperately in need of more talent. 

Jesperi Kotkaniemi Canadiens
Is acquiring Ryan O’Reilly worth potentially giving up top prospect Jesperi Kotkaniemi? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, it seems counterproductive to give up some of those assets for one player, as good as O’Reilly is. The Habs are a bad team, but it’s easy to see that many of their players are capable of far better than what they showed last season. Still, this is not a team anywhere close to contender status.

O’Reilly would help make the Habs a playoff contender (as well as Carey Price bouncing back), but is it worth giving up a prospect like Kotkaniemi and/or or a first rounder for him? For where the Habs are in their current situation, it might not be the best choice. O’Reilly currently has five years left on his contract with a $7.5 million cap hit. 

Deal or No Deal?

As much as O’Reilly would be a tremendous help to the Habs, the cost to acquire him right now is too high. Unless it was a one-for-one swap involving Max Pacioretty, acquiring a player of O’Reilly’s calibre would cost the Habs significant pieces. The team’s best assets are their prospects and younger players, and trading them would be a backwards move. The Habs are nowhere near contender status, and while O’Reilly would help them take a step closer back to respectability, the reality is that the cost is too high for a team that needs a rebuild, not a quick fix.