The last time Ryan O’Reilly was in a contract dispute with the Colorado Avalanche it took until half way through the lockout shortened season to see him return to the ice. After seemingly endless trade rumors and a very lucrative offer sheet from the Calgary Flames, O’Reilly was set to stay in Colorado for two years. With a change in leadership last season many Avs fans were optimistic that any hard feelings from past negotiations would be smoothed over. Unfortunately things in Denver seemed to stay rocky.
O’Reilly, fresh of his Lady Byng award, was thrown back into another tough contract dispute when the team elected to take him to arbitration. O’Reilly and the Avalanche management seemed to be starting their negotiations on two different ideas on what O’Reilly was paid this season. Colorado wanted the conversation to start at the 5 million dollar cap hit, while O’Reilly and his agent were hoping to start talked at the 6.5 million dollar amount it would take to qualify him.
The good news for Avalanche fans came this morning just before arbitration was set to begin when they finally agreed on a 2 year deal worth 6 million a season. The Avalanche got their man, for less than the 6.5 million starting point. The length of the contract is raising some eyebrows though, as it’s once again a short term deal, and this time O’Reilly wont be a restricted free agent, he will be a full unrestricted free agent.
Bridge deal or trade bait
Remember Paul Stastny? He used to play for the Colorado Avalanche, until St. Louis offered him a nice meaty contract. Last season, Stastny’s name was mentioned a lot around the trade deadline. He was going to be an unrestricted free agent, and Colorado could have traded him then, but they were confident that they could resign him. They were burned by that, and it’s not a mistake you expect Joe Sakic to make twice. This two year deal gives the two parties time to decide what they want from the future. Colorado now has two years to try everything they can to work out a longer term extension, or trade him before he hits UFA status. For O’Reilly he now has two years to show the league just how much he’s actually worth.
O’Reilly playing his absolute best is a double edged sword for Colorado. A world class forward obviously helps the team win, but it gives O’Reilly more of a case for him to be paid a lot more than the front office may value him. Colorado will listen to trade offers for O’Reilly, it makes sense to listen. An issue with this deal though, is O’Reilly’s trade value is lower at this moment because of the length of this contract. If Colorado is worried he will walk during free agency then other teams will be worried about that too. It depends on how bad someone wants a potential rental player.
Obviously Colorado wants to keep O’Reilly as Joe Sakic has publicly admitted to Adrian Dater of the Denver post:
“When we shook hands, I think we were both very happy,” Sakic said. “I know the Colorado Avalanche is very happy. He’s a very valuable player to us and we want him long-term. That (type of contract) hasn’t happened yet, but we’ll keep working at it and see what happens.”
This two year deal buys Colorado time to get that done. But it also affords them the luxury of having two years to work out a trade if a long term deal starts to look like a pipe dream. Teams around the league are going to be paying very close attention to the situation in Denver. A premiere two way player like O’Reilly doesn’t come around very often.
A big, skilled two way player makes Colorado a better team, and really that’s what this is all about. The Avs are better with O’Reilly in the lineup. His take away stats are impressive, especially considering he only recorded two penalty minutes last season. He has also rounded into quite a talented goal scorer. It’s in Colorado’s best interest to sign him, and sign him long term. Whether or not that get’s done is up to the front office.
Colorado used to be called cheap, but that’s been changing ever since last season. But the O’Reilly situation seems to have some fans divided over just how committed to winning this team is. With the team’s salary going up it seems hard to believe that Colorado is still pinching pennies. Rather, it seems more likely that the team is trying to be as cap savvy as possible while building a cup contender. O’Reilly is an important piece to that process, but if his value comes at the expense of the teams other core players, or its depth, then he’ll be traded. Nothing personal, just business.
Born and raised in Denver, I’m a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. I have a degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University.