The Ryan O’Reilly trade is a deal that is looked at through many different lenses. Some people see it is yet another misstep of an organization that has lost all of its senses. Others see it as a necessary move that brought back an impressive haul of future prospects for the situation in which the team found itself. So which is it?
How the Ryan O’Reilly Trade Happened
As far as stories go, the way the O’Reilly trade progressed was a pretty dramatic one. After his rookie contract, O’Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche hit their first of what would be many snags, as he opted to stay in Russia until he got a contract offer he liked. The league was just getting under way after the lockout, and this left Colorado without its leading scorer from the year before.
Things got more dramatic when the Calgary Flames signed O’Reilly, then a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet that the Avs immediately matched. The tricky part with this offer sheet was that the second year of the contract was substantially higher than the first, meaning that Colorado would have to qualify him at a much higher number the next time his contract came up. This move led to the next negative turn in their relationship.
Once it was time to negotiate again, the Avalanche almost immediately filed for salary arbitration with O’Reilly, a move that was widely met with criticism. It made more sense for Colorado so they didn’t have to risk another offer sheet or long holdout. The arbitration never happened, as the two sides agreed to another two-year contract moments before the scheduled meeting. Unfortunately, any hope fans had of the two sides reconciling their differences faded quickly.
After one more season, the Avalanche tried to get O’Reilly signed to a long-term contract extension before he finally became unrestricted, but his contract demands reportedly came in at an $8 million AAV, which made no sense for the team. Adding to all the obvious tension between team and player, O’Reilly’s dad and agent both publicly blasted the Avs for “mistreating” and not appreciating him. It was well beyond the tipping point and Joe Sakic finally pulled the trigger on what has been one of the most talked-about trades since it happened.
The Ryan O’Reilly Trade
Just before the 2015 NHL Draft got under way, Joe Sakic made the move official and sent Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher, Mikhail Grigorenko, and the Sabres’ second-round pick. It was a trade that had completely different purposes for each team.
For the Sabres, they got two legitimate NHL players and one who could fill out their top six and take on a leadership role. The Avalanche got a young defenseman bursting with potential, a reclamation project, a strong prospect, and a pick. The Sabres got better right away and the Avs were hoping this would lay an excellent foundation for the future.
As is the case with most big trades, this wasn’t the end of the overall deal. From this trade, an impressive little tree began to sprout for the Avalanche. Sakic sent Buffalo’s pick to San Jose before the start of the second round of the 2015 draft, acquiring San Jose’s second-round pick in 2015, as well as a second and sixth-round pick in 2016 and 2017. After less than 24 hours, it was already apparent that there would be almost no way to determine the full outcome of this trade anytime soon.
Buffalo did a little to extend its part of the trade tree, but it didn’t last long. The Sabres traded Jamie McGinn to Anaheim for a conditional pick which ended up being a third-rounder. This pick was later sent to Nashville, meaning O’Reilly is the only real lasting portion of this trade for Buffalo.
Colorado, however, used each additional draft pick they acquired to bolster their prospect pool. The Avs selected A.J. Greer in 2015, Cam Morrison in 2016, and Denis Smirnov in 2017. The end product of this trade essentially boils down to O’Reilly and McGinn for Zadorov, Grigorenko, Compher, Greer, Morrison, and Smirnov.
Who Won the Trade?
A favorite pastime of discussing trades is looking at them and assigning a winner and a loser. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious, but in cases like this, where there are so many future pieces involved, it’s hard to do no matter how much people try. Even at this point in history, it doesn’t make sense to try and assign a winner or a loser.
Still, a few things can definitely be said about this deal. Both teams lost a complementary piece for nothing. Buffalo ended up not using the pick they acquired for McGinn, and Grigorenko is headed back to Russia. While it isn’t ideal for either team, neither of these two players was the reason the trade was made in the first place.
O’Reilly has definitely given the Sabres what they wanted. He was brought in to be a contributing player on a young team. He’s a young veteran that is going through the prime of his career and will be helping to push Buffalo back into the playoff picture.
The Avalanche got outstanding value in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Though people are trying to make a big deal about the fact that Grigorenko is no longer in Colorado, the reality is that the Avs needed two things from that deal. They needed a young, potential stud defenseman, and a lot of draft picks. They got both of these things and it will be up to them to develop those younger players into contributing NHLers. There is a strong possibility that you will see both Compher and Greer getting regular minutes at the Pepsi Center this season.
There is still one way in which Colorado becomes the big loser, and that is if they botch Zadorov. As of the writing of this article, Zadorov remains unsigned. Sakic was recently quoted saying that the two sides have agreed on the term of the contract, just not the salary. While returning to Russia seems unlikely, he was the cornerstone piece of this trade for the Avs and they have to do what it takes to get him signed. Once this happens, this trade still looks pretty good for both teams.
I’m a Denver native who has been a fan of the Avalanche since they came to town and a fan of the game before that. I started writing my own blog a couple years ago before moving to Bleacher Report and becoming a Featured Columnist there. You can also find me the Burgundy Brigade Podcast