It appears that Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche is on the trading block as the 2015 NHL Draft approaches. The man they call “Factor” has many upsides to his game on the ice, but it is off ice contract disputes that have caused the organization issues in the past.
The 2009 draft has proved to be key for today’s Avalanche roster which included selecting O’Reilly 33rd overall. O’Reilly made the Avalanche roster on opening day in 2009 and has been a center piece ever since. In just six seasons, one of which was cut short by a lockout, O’Reilly has played in 427 NHL regular season games and has produced 246 points in this span.
While his point production is a big plus, arguably the strongest piece of O’Reilly’s game is his play away from the puck. At the conclusion of last season O’Reilly was one of three members of the Avalanche to win an award at the NHL awards show in Las Vegas. O’Reilly led the entire league with 83 takeaways and as a result he won the Lady Byng memorial trophy as the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. Also, in 80 games O’Reilly received an astounding number of penalty minutes – two, yes two.
His one penalty was playing the puck with a broken stick right off a faceoff. O’Reilly did not appear to realize his stick was broken and his penalty-free streak ended very late in the season.
At just 24 years of age, O’Reilly has probably another decade of hockey in him at least, barring anything unexpected. O’Reilly and Matt Duchene are the same age and Duchene was selected third overall in the 2009 draft and as a result these two players are constantly compared to one another. Often times it is the second round where teams find unexpected gems and the Avalanche definitely did this with O’Reilly. As well as O’Reilly has played on the ice, it is some off ice contract issues that haunt him.
At the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season O’Reilly found himself as a RFA and the league was facing a potential lockout for the following season. Despite the organization’s attempt to sign him, O’Reilly decided to hold out, wanting to be paid more money. The 2012-2013 season did get played but the first game did not occur until January 19 2013. Each team was scheduled to play 48 games from January 19 to April 28.
As the season got its late start, O’Reilly remained unsigned and the Avalanche stood firm on what they were willing to pay him. Duchene had agreed to a two-year bridge contract that would allow the Avalanche to sign him long-term at a later date. It appeared the Avalanche used this contract as a base for what they were and were not willing to pay O’Reilly. They did not want a second round draft pick to be making more money than the first round draft pick from the same year. Eventually a third party would end up dictating what the Avalanche would do next with O’Reilly.
As the Avalanche played the first month of the shortened season O’Reilly remained unsigned, until the Calgary Flames forced the Avalanche’s hand. The Flames had offered O’Reilly a two-year, $10 million offer sheet that the Avalanche had a week to match. Within a matter of hours the organization matched the offer and O’Reilly was officially under contract for the first time in about nine months. The Flames GM at the time, Jay Feaster, spoke very highly of O’Reilly after the Avalanche matched the offer sheet.
In an already shortened season O’Reilly would play only 12 games in a season that the Avalanche just as soon forget. O’Reilly produced 10 points in those 12 games, but it was too little, too late. The Avalanche would win only 16 of the 48 games played that season. As a result the Avalanche won the draft lottery and were awarded the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft.
2nd Contract Dispute
At the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season O’Reilly again found himself as a RFA. This time, however, the Avalanche had new management since his last contract dispute but it seemed to take the same route. While the Avalanche extended its own players and traded for and signed new ones, O’Reilly remained unsigned. This time the two sides elected for arbitration to agree on a deal. O’Reilly wanted more money than the Avalanche were willing to pay and the Avalanche did not want to pay him more than Duchene, who had already agreed to a five-year extension that would start in 2014.
When O’Reilly arrived at the third party location of the arbitrator’s office, it was to decide if his next contract would be a one or two-year deal. Members of the management team for the Avalanche arrived as well including Sakic. As the set time for the hearing neared the two parties began to discuss the contract situation more in-depth.
Just moments before the meeting was set to begin the two sides came to an agreement and shook hands right outside the arbitrator’s door. It would be another two-year deal for O’Reilly and it would pay him $12 million. In the first year of his new deal O’Reilly played in all 82 games and produced 55 points.
In the Coming Days
This past Thursday, the Avalanche held a media teleconference featuring Sakic and Vice President of Hockey Operations and Head Coach Patrick Roy. While neither man tipped his hand as to what the Avalanche will do in the coming days, they did state a couple of key points. Sakic called O’Reilly a member of the team’s core and they want to resign him before the start of the season. Roy also said they wish to add a left-handed defenceman to play next to Erik Johnson on the top defensive pairing when free agency opens on July 1.
One year from now O’Reilly will be a UFA for the first time. The Avalanche already let Paul Stastny leave for nothing, thinking that they could sign him right before he tested the free agent market. It is believed as time passes the urgency to sign O’Reilly will go up and his value will go down. If the Avalanche wish to trade O’Reilly and receive top return they would be wise to deal him in the next couple weeks.
It is being reported while Sakic says the priority is to resign the young center, teams have called the Avalanche to kick tires on the possibility of a trade. Actively shopping a player and taking trade calls are absolutely two different things and the Avalanche seem to not be limiting their options.
If a team wishes to make a solid push for O’Reilly look for a top-four left-handed defenceman to be included in the package coming back to the Avalanche. O’Reilly has a ton of talent and a ton of upside but it may be time for the Avalanche to cut their losses and cash in on a very good player. Whatever the Avalanche ultimately do, O’Reilly’s presence will impact the Avalanche lineup for years to come.
I am a University of New Mexico journalism student who has been watching NHL hockey since 1996 and I started playing hockey myself in 2003. I have covered both college soccer and volleyball in the past and I also contribute to a NASCAR news website.