It was said to be just a maintenance day when Buffalo Sabres All-Star Ryan O’Reilly missed the team’s practice on Saturday. Ultimately, it turned out to be much bigger than a simple day off.
The team announced early Sunday morning that the team’s leading scorer was gong to miss their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but nothing more was known other than he was being evaluated by doctors. General manager Tim Murray even said he didn’t know what was fully going on with him when asked in the press box during Buffalo’s 4-3 loss to the Penguins on Sunday (February 21).
After the game, however, head coach Dan Bylsma gave an update on the situation, saying that he was going to be out at least three to four weeks with what the club is calling a lower-body injury — he was seen in a boot in the hallway after the game. Though Bylsma did say that O’Reilly won’t be ruled out for a return to the ice this season, he was resigned to the fact that he may have lost his best player until the 2016-17 season.
It’s a loss that has the team a bit shook, and looking for answers.
“He’s you’re number one guy, and that’s something you can’t replace,” Bylsma said. “You can’t insert a Justin Bailey and replace what Ryan O’Reilly gives you.
“We’re going to miss that.”
O’Reilly has shown passion for the role as a leader on the Sabres after being given the largest contract in franchise history. He’s constantly holding “O’Reilly Practices” on the ice after the team finishes up, and has been harder on himself than anyone else when things aren’t going well. It’s a mindset that has trickled down throughout the roster in a lead by example way.
Even goaltender Robin Lehner admitted what the loss of O’Reilly means not just for the team on the ice, but the players inside the locker room.
“It’s a huge loss for us,” he said. “He’s a world class player, and a leader of this room.”
O’Reilly has 49 points(17 + 32) in 59 games during his first season as a member of the Sabres.
With O’Reilly out of the lineup, Bylsma is going to be giving rookie Sam Reinhart, who has played nearly the entirety of the season on the wing, an extended look as a center on the team. His first audition, of sorts, was against the Penguins where wound up on the wing by the final buzzer.
In addition to the Reinhart, Bylsma said that players currently on the roster need to step up on the ice, naming rookie Jack Eichel and forward Johan Larsson as examples. He knows what losing O’Reilly means, and he really noticed his absence when the team was on its heels in the second period.
“We needed someone to step over the boards and take control of the game,” he said.
Buffalo wasn’t a team making the playoffs this season, but it was a team making strides. The team was just starting to gel, earning points in eight of its last 10 games entering Sunday. With the loss of the top center, it would be safe to assume that things are about to go downhill for a team trying to avoid finishing in last place for the third-straight season.
From O’Reilly’s absence to the fact that the trade deadline is a week away, one has to wonder what the Sabres roster will look like come time for the first home game after the deadline on March 1. Oh, and by the way, that also happens to be the first NHL matchup between Eichel and Connor McDavid as the Edmonton Oilers come to town.
Featured photo by: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers