The Colorado Avalanche have found themselves in a difficult but similar situation this summer with Ryan O’Reilly. The two main pieces of business the Avalanche need to take care of following their success this past season, are the re-signing of Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly. Both of whom are considered part of the core the Avalanche are building around. While Paul Stastny is a UFA, the Avs are confident in re-signing the talented two way center sooner rather than later. Ryan O’Reilly on the other hand, is a RFA, one which everyone thought would be the easier of the two to get re-signed by the Avalanche. The Ryan O’Reilly conundrum continues and is something Avalanche fans didn’t think they’d have to deal with again.
In the summer of 2013, the Ryan O’Reilly conundrum began. Contract negotiations between O’Reilly represented by Newport Sports(notoriously known for their aggressive tactics) and the Avalanche were not going well, O’Reilly felt he was worth more than what the Avalanche were willing to pay. The Avalanche, and fairly so, offered Ryan O’Reilly a bridge deal for two years at $7 million, same thing they did with Matt Duchene, except Matt signed the contract and look, he proved himself and now he’s making $6 million per year. The two sides were not coming close to an agreement it seemed and the season had already started, the Colorado Avalanche were playing without one of their star players because of a contract hold out almost halfway into the shortened season. A contract holdout that made many Avs fans mad at O’Reilly for holding out and feeling the Avalanche’s offer was completely fair. Sadly it went on and on and every day Avalanche fans were hoping the sides would finally come to a mutual understanding.
The 2013 Calgary Offer Sheet
Noticeably things were not going well at the negotiation table, Ryan O’Reilly trade rumors and drama surrounded and distracted the Avalanche life. Then the unthinkable happened. The Calgary Flames under Jay Feaster(ugh) submitted an offer sheet for Ryan O’Reilly and O’Reilly signed it, as it guaranteed him the money he and his agent were so desperately and impatiently waiting for. That offer sheet from the Flames brought O’Reilly’s cap hit all the way up to $6.5 million. Within a couple hours the Avalanche matched the offer sheet sending a message to Calgary and the rest of the NHL that they weren’t going to be pushed around. Not to mention Jay Feaster and the Flames might have made a real blunder as O’Reilly would have had to go through waivers if the Avalanche hadn’t matched the offer. It’s no surprise there is new management in Calgary now. Colorado weren’t going to let any team come in and try and steal one of their best young players. Finally the Colorado Avalanche got Ryan O’Reilly back in the burgundy and blue and back playing with his teammates again, much to the relief of fans and staff alike.
Time went by and O’Reilly preformed well and it seemed as if everything was going to be fine, the Avalanche turned things around big time with the hiring of Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy to the front office, leading to one of the Avs best seasons to date. He put up some impressive numbers finishing 3rd on the team with 64 points also leading O’Reilly to become a Lady Byng finalist. But had the Ryan O’Reilly conundrum really ended? Just recently it was the deadline for teams to exercise their right to file for arbitration for their RFA’s, and that is exactly what the Colorado Avalanche did.
Avalanche File for Arbitration
Now this 2014 contract dispute(if we can even call it a dispute), is much different than the previous contract negotiations that led the the offer sheet from Calgary. A lot has changed in Denver, and great changes at that. They went from their worst season ever to one of their best seasons ever under Sakic and coach Roy. They instilled a winning culture back in Colorado that was missing for many many years. Ryan O’Reilly is now playing left wing on a line with Matt Duchene and the two have great chemistry on the ice. Basically O’Reilly is in a perfect situation, great young core that he is a big part of going forward, on a team going places and he loves the city. So why have the two sides not come to an agreement before this deadline? No one can answer that at the moment but the fact is the Avalanche did not want to start negotiations at O’Reilly’s $6.5 million cap hit, which was established by Calgary, not Colorado. They want to start out at their number and then go from there. Colorado still has all the time remaining until the arbitration hearing to hammer out a deal that satisfies both sides. If the two sides cannot meet in the middle so to speak, then an arbiter will determine Ryan O’Reilly’s worth in terms of dollars and award him a one or two year contract.
Some look at the situation and say Ryan is being greedy and childish to an extent while at the other end of the spectrum, you have some people who say the Avalanche should just pay the man what he wants if they consider him to be a core piece and an untouchable player on their roster. While both may be correct, if O’Reilly and his agent want to be paid at $6.5 million or more per year, then the Avalanche must surely think carefully about what their options are. Is Ryan O’Reilly worth $6.5 million dollars a year, especially when you have players such as Matt Duchene & Gabe Landeskog on lower contracts? Is Ryan O’Reilly’s play more valuable to the Avalanche than Duchene or Landeskog? The answer is a simple no, while Ryan O’Reilly may be one of the hardest workers, along with very talented two-way play, he is not a better hockey player than Matt Duchene or Landeskog at this point and he is not yet at that level of pay either.
Don’t get me wrong, he is one of the Avs best players and should be paid accordingly, but that’s it. No special bonuses just because you work super hard or are the last one to leave at practice, the results are shown in games and throughout seasons. Ryan O’Reilly’s agent Pat Morris said his client wants to stay in Denver and if that’s the case let’s hope it doesn’t get to the point of arbitration. Here is an article containing some recent quotes from Pat Morris. So again, if O’Reilly really wants to stay in Denver, he should tell his agent to just meet in the middle with the Avalanche. I’m pretty sure Joe Sakic wouldn’t state Ryan O’Reilly is part of Colorado’s core and future in public and then low-ball the guy on a new contract.
Bottom line is the Ryan O’Reilly conundrum must come to a stop sooner rather than later. No matter how stubborn he may be or seem, he is still one of the Avalanche’s best young forwards and is currently in Vegas waiting to see if he will win this years Lady Byng Trophy. It would be quite a big mistake if the Avalanche end up trading him for anything less than a deal they cannot refuse. Colorado wants to keep him and O’Reilly wants to stay in Colorado, surely that is enough for them to come to an agreement, one would think anyway. Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic have been in these situations themselves as players, so I have no doubt that they are handling this with class and professionalism. Get O’Reilly re-signed and we can all rest a bit easier, until it is time to negotiate his next contract that is, but let’s hope that won’t become a reality for at least a few more years.
Sebastian Noble is currently in his third year with The Hockey Writers covering the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers. Liverpool, England, and of course Colorado Avalanche & Florida Panthers supporter. You can follow him on Twitter @SebastianHNoble