It’s déjà vu all over again for the Colorado Avalanche.
If it feels like yesterday that the team and center Ryan O’Reilly were struggling to negotiate a new contract, that’s because it basically was.
Two years ago, O’Reilly was a restricted free agent and the both sides failed to come to an agreement on what was a fair deal for the then-21-year-old center. The Calgary Flames then made things easier for both sides to decide when they stepped in with a two-year, $10 million offer sheet. The Avalanche quickly matched and the last nearly two years have been quiet.
But with O’Reilly set to become a restricted free agent yet again, not to mention coming off of a career year, he’s looking to get paid and the Avalanche are in a position they’d rather not be in. You see, it starts with the fact that O’Reilly’s qualifying offer is a whopping $6.5 million based on the terms of the offer sheet. The Avs likely don’t want to pay him that kind of money and O’Reilly surely believes he deserves it.
So with the Avs taking O’Reilly to club-elected salary arbitration, where O’Reilly would still make no less than $5.525 million (85% of his salary last year) even if the Avs do with the arbitration, there seems to be a less-than-desired contract battle on the horizon.
Which is why the Avs need to do the difficult thing and trade Ryan O’Reilly.
This is the point in the article where, if you’re not openly cursing at me through your monitor, you’re at least scoffing heavily. But hear me out. There are two important things to consider in regards to the current O’Reilly situation.
Firstly, there’s the issue of Paul Stastny. Coming off a five-year deal paying him $6.6 million annually, Stastny isn’t due a raise but likely won’t take much of a pay cut if he stays in Colorado. The demand for a quality second-line center will be high and someone will pay Stastny in that range. If he gets lucky, someone might get stupid and give him a raise. Either way, he won’t be cheap to retain. Ideally, the Avs would love to keep him on board for his leadership abilities and rapport with captain Gabriel Landeskog. He also does strong work defensively and in the faceoff dot.
Losing Stastny would be a huge blow even if O’Reilly is brought back. Ideally, the Avs would like to retain both but a hefty contract to O’Reilly could cost the Avs Stastny and cap flexibility going forward.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the relationship between the team and the player. As is per usual, in situations like these, it’s hard to stay cordial. The player is asking for more money, which the team never, ever likes and the team is trying to plead its case that the player sucks and deserves nothing. Standard practice here. But as a player, it’s hard to not be offended and angered by that behavior. Sure, you understand the bottom line of a team, but does that make it any easier to hear them list every reason why you shouldn’t be paid? This can potentially lead to issues down the road and any time the player’s contract is set to expire, there will be heightened tensions.
Should O’Reilly be moved, the haul would have to be great. Anyone trying to trade for a 23-year-old defensively smart center coming off of his best year ever offensively is going to have to pony up and pony up BIG TIME to make the Avs even consider moving him. Maybe they can add a forward who can play in the top nine right away or a top four defenseman ready to make an impact right off the bat, but either way, the Avs need to do their best to get the max value for a highly-sought-after asset like O’Reilly should they decide to go that route.
Any move would likely require some heavy lifting from the PR department to deflect the backlash of trading one of the Avs’ best players, but if done right, this could be a huge move for the Avalanche in terms of what would come back.
It will be interesting see what twists and turn this saga takes next, but don’t be surprised to see big waves coming out of Denver.
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