It seems as if the rumour mill keeps getting more interesting by the hour with the NHL Trade Deadline coming in March and it’s not even Christmas yet. With that in mind, there’s always chatter going on with some of the top names.
Recently, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun recently reported that the Toronto Maple Leafs have discussed internally the possibility about looking to acquire St. Louis Blues captain, Ryan O’Reilly. The Stanley Cup champion and playoff MVP from the 2018-19 season possibly being made available is a major sign that changes could be on the horizon for the Blues as they’re sitting sixth in the Central Division and well back of a wild card spot. (from ‘NHL trade board 2022-23: Bo Horvat tops our initial list of 25 players to watch’, The Athletic NHL – 12/15/22)
It’s early on, but if a move is to be made, O’Reilly is the likely candidate that could be moved as the Blues look to make some changes. Fellow Maple Leafs writer, Shane Seney wrote a great target piece from the Blues with O’Reilly being a real factor for the team should they move forward with a trade. Even if there’s no need to trade him now, if things continue to go south, it could align for a potential deal.
Yes, the Maple Leafs are still in a cap crunch and it would be difficult for a move to happen. If things work out financially, this could be a big-time acquisition for a team desperately looking to make it out of the first round and go on a deep playoff run.
Price Could be Big, but Worth It
When you’re looking to bring in a player with the kind of resume that O’Reilly has, it’s definitely not going to be cheap. He’s one of the top two-way forwards in the game today as he also has a Selke and Lady Byng trophy on his resume to show for it.
In the final year of his current contract with an annual average salary of $7.5 million, it’s understandable why the Blues would want to get a return on O’Reilly, especially if he signs elsewhere. With the Maple Leafs trying to work their way around the salary cap again, it’s definitely a move that could possibly work out. With Jake Muzzin on long-term injured reserve and his future in doubt, that frees up a lot of space to try and bring in a possible top name on the market.
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Given how the Blues are close to the cap as well, they would probably want picks and prospects to keep their prospect pool competitive. If salary is being retained, whether by the Blues or from another team getting involved like with the Nick Foligno trade, the Maple Leafs will definitely need to sweeten the deal. With the 2023 draft being a deep one, if it costs a first-round pick, they may have to part ways with it.
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The Maple Leafs also have a number of prospects that could be of use as well and general manager Kyle Dubas has said in the past that he wouldn’t hesitate to trade prospects to help the team. Nick Robertson has been in and out of the lineup, but has shown promise as a top-six forward. Given his upside as a high-energy scorer, could there be a fit for him with the Blues? Will Dubas possibly give up a prospect like Roni Hirvonen or another prospect with good upside in Mikhail Abramov? Either way, it’s going to be a big price, but it will be worth it to have his experience and skillset on the roster.
Another Dual Threat Up Front
There’s no surprise that teams would want the highly smart and competitive play that O’Reilly brings.
Given how the Maple Leafs have played consistently after a rough October, everyone is buying into a hard-working mentality. Lately, that has been showing and O’Reilly brings that same responsible style of play with his game. He’s a strong dual threat that will compliment this team very well and having that work ethic that comes with it, would be a big bonus. The Maple Leafs are second in goals against per game with 2.33 and sixth in shots against per game with 29.3 and O’Reilly will do a good job to keep things that way.
O’Reilly has been a very consistent 50, 60-point producer throughout his career. Although his production is down this season, that can be attributed to the Blues as a team having a down season overall compared to what we’ve seen in the past. Even though he only has 15 points in 29 games, he’s still a factor where it matters most– in front of the net as he has a high danger chances for percentage of 52.07% at five-on-five. His goals for percentage (37.78) and high danger goals for percentage (36.36) are also down, but he has shown to be successful in those departments in the past.
One thing the Maple Leafs have struggled with at times is puck management, leading to costly turnovers resulting in goals. O’Reilly will be able to add more stability to that department as he only has five giveaways all season, to go along with his 25 takeaways. That’s impressive as the Maple Leafs want that kind of puck possession style of play. He’s smart and physical within his own end and does a great job on the forecheck and provide a strong net front presence in the offensive zone. He’s a player that will thrive in any situation that he’s in, as he’s noticeable in all three zones.
O’Reilly Gives the Team Options
O’Reilly’s placement in the lineup could be interesting as the Maple Leafs do have options. Given how Auston Matthews and John Tavares are the top-two centres, O’Reilly would most likely be the third line centre while also seeing time on the power play and penalty kill.
With Pontus Holmberg excelling since being called up who can play the wing and Calle Jarnkrok adjusting well before his groin injury, O’Reilly in the middle of them both could be a very balanced yet underrated third line with great smarts. Having him in the middle-six will give the Maple Leafs many options and combinations going forward.
Given how the team is deep up front in the top-six, they could always find a way to use O’Reilly in that role as he has succeeded in the past, similar to how Foligno was deployed back in 2021. If he’s able to move up and down the lineup, that could work in the Maple Leafs favour.
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Could he centre the second line and Tavares be used on wing as mentioned in the past? It’s possible as Tavares does have more speed compared to last season and his play along the boards has been noticeable. Though let’s go with the safe bet and say that he’ll centre a highly competitive third line.
While we’re still months away from the trade deadline, if O’Reilly is made available, the Maple Leafs should consider paying the price for a steady two-way centre with plenty of playoff experience. O’Reilly’s ability to be a dual threat on both sides of the puck are what gets you far in those runs and the Maple Leafs would be benefit from that greatly.
Statistics from Natural Stat Trick, Cap Friendly, Hockey Reference and NHL.
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