Outside the Box: Sign Ryan O’Reilly to an Offer Sheet

I recently wrote an article for NHLNumbers on some of interesting restricted free agents still waiting to be signed. Amongst them was 21-year old Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly. A former second round pick who made the NHL immediately as an 18-year old, O’Reilly is perhaps the best target for a potential Flames offer sheet for a number of reasons.

First of all, the kid checks all of the organization’s boxes. He’s young but can contribute immediately, being a veteran of 236 games. He is also a center who can already play the toughest minutes available. From my linked article: 

O’Reilly would be a welcome addition to any roster in the league. He’s already a practiced hard minutes option and is 3-5 years away from his peak, which may include a Selke nomination or two. It’s uncertain whether he will ever develop into a true offensive weapon, but he’s the sort of player who makes others around him better and the lives of team mates not on his line a lot easier.

O’Reilly took on the second toughest minutes on his team last year, had the second toughest zone start ratio, but the seocnd best relative corsi rating (which was a double digit positive number). He also led his team in scoring, despite a below average (ie; unlucky) PDO (svae percentage + shooting percentage). Oh…and he had similar underlying numbers as a teenaged sophomore. Those are all big arrows all pointing in the right direction.

The Colorado kid isn’t a conventionally sexy acquistion because he doesn’t have eye-popping offensive numbers and he isn’t overly big (6′, 205 pounds). He is, however, already playing in some of the hardest circumstances available and excelling, which are results worth paying for in just about any player, let alone a guy who probably won’t even peak for another 3 or 4 years. Signing a player like O’Reilly at his age with his results means you get a high-end contributor now and likely for the rest of his contract however long it might be. That’s not something you can usually say for 28+ year old UFA’s.

Pressuring the Misers 

The maneuver might work for another reason: the Avs are a notoriously cheap organization. The only guy making more than $4M on their roster currently is Paul Stastny, and he was signed under a previous regime. Colorado has built teams for pennies on the dollar for the last few seasons and currently have the 8th cheapest line-up in the league. Last season, they were the club with the closest eye on the bottom line, icing an outfit worth about $50 million. Even the bankrupt Coyotes spent approximately $5 million more than that.

So no doubt part of the hold-up in negotiations with their burgeoning star is the organization’s distaste for spending money. Word is, O’Reilly wants the Avs to match what he’s making in Russia (about $4M/year) over at least four years. Frankly, I think that’s chump change for a player of his current ability and growing potential, but that’s enough to have things at a stalemate with the Colorado GM and owners, apparently.

The Play

The Flames don’t have their second rounder next season (gone in the Cammalleri/Bourque swap) but assuming the compensation rules for RFA offer sheets haven’t changed, Calgary could offer O’Reilly up to $5.04 million per year and the return for Colorado would be the Flames first and third round picks next season (any more than that and Calgary surrenders their first, second and third…which is impossible since Montreal has their second).

Luckily, it seems a $5 million over 5 or 6 year contract offer would be more than enough to make the Avalanche balk at matching. 

Risks and Complications

Of course, there will be some who protest losing a first and third round pick and therefore having zero picks in the top-90 for the next 2013 draft. There’s a couple of responses to that:

1.) Outside of maybe (remains to be seen) Sven Baertschi, the Flames haven’t picked a forward of O’Reilly’s caliber in the last two decades. Unless they completely tank and finish with a top-5 lottery choice, the chances of the first or third rounder being a player as good or better than O’Reilly is quite slim.

2.) If getting some picks back is a priority, Calgary has more than a few trade-able assets on the roster which they can move for some sort of return.

Of course, the primary obstacle to this sneaky bit of thievary is…the club currently doesn’t have $5 million in cap space. They’re sitting around $3.5M as things stand, meaning the Flames would have to free up at least another $2 million in order to ink O’Reilly and still have a bit of breathing breathing room. Waiving Babchuk so someone else would claim him or moving him for pennies on the dollar may work – even marginal defenders like Jim Vandermeer, Mark Fistric and Cam Barker are getting attention right now. Finding someone to take Stajan would be a great way to free up the dollars too.

Outside of somehow deleting one or both of those two anchors, Feaster would have to get creative in order to get the budget space required to sign O’Reilly. Luckily, it’s not a huge amount of money, so theoretically it’s not an impossible feat.


O’Reilly is everything the Flames want now and need in the future: a young, NHL ready center who can drive possession and guy who will be peaking a few years down the road. He’s an exceedingly rare commodity and a potential future Selke winner (one thing you’ll note of every cup contender: they have at least one dominant, two-way pivot) – trading a first and third and signing him long-term strikes me as a solid bet.

As a bonus, the Flames could cripple a division rival by pilfering a key cog from their organization, or at the very least force them to pay O’Reilly much more than they are comfortable with, thereby upsetting whatever constrictive internal budget the Avalanche have.

It’s a win-win-win scenario. Get it done Jay.

Hattip to twitter user @hockeysymposium for giving me the idea for this post.

  • T&A4Flames

    The chances of drafting in the top 5 have never been higher for the Flames. This player is not the difference maker that we could potentially be giving up if this deal were to happen.

  • T&A4Flames

    I’m not sold.
    If you are trading 2 warm bodies and 2 high draft picks, I think you should expect a higher return. What would the return be if we were talking about a 1st, a 3rd and Chris Butler? 1st 3rd and Backlund/Horak/Byron? Matteau Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a 1st got a 28 year old Jokinen and a 3rd. I’m just saying, 2 NHL skaters a 1st and a 3rd should get more on the open market.
    It just seems like poor asset managment to me. Don’t forget guys, a sub-par asset is still an asset. The fact is, Stajan can jump out of the press box into any of the bottom 9 positions any night agaist any team. Babchuck is also capable of playing bottom 4 minutes against anyone. I’m not saying their great players and we need them on the team, I’m just saying they are not the liablities we all suggest they are.

    • T&A4Flames

      Well I think the assumption here is that OReilly would be an excellent target for the Flames seeing we lack at that position & it seems based on the advanced stats, Kent feels it would warrant trying to offer sheet him. Huge step in trying to solve our #1 or #2 Centre position. I think we agree that a 2013 1st & 3rd is not something to mess with so if we offer Colorado something, we have to make it very attractive. I suggested Irving(an asset that probably isnt going to get his chance here), Butler, Backlund & a 2014 2nd almost seems as an overpayment to me but if Oreilly is worth it, all the assets we are giving up here can be replaced as opposed to giving up our 1st & 3rd rounders this year.

    • T&A4Flames

      Sorry to disagree on the least important point you made, but Babchuk is definitely the liability we characterize him as. If he played anything that even came close to resembling a facsimilie of 2nd pair minutes, he would appear in the supermarket the next morning as grade F mystery meat. Even if he faced average 3rd pair minutes, he would get royally lambasted.

  • dustin642

    O’Reilly is a natural center – capable of playing immediately in Calgary’s top 6, has over 200 NHL games of experience and he’s freaking 21! Ryan O’Reilly is a spitting image of exactly what the Flames want and need. The Avs (as pointed out in this article) are cheap, and have Matt Duchene & Paul Stasny ahead of him in their depth chart. O’Reilly is wanting 4mil – the Avs are saying no way. An offer of 4.5mil a year x 5 years would require a 1st & 3rd pick for compensation. Now, O’Reilly makes this team better, no denying that. Probably good enough to make the playoffs. We aren’t going to pick a player of this caliber with either our 1st or 3rd, especially if we make the playoffs. I know nobody wants to see this team get Phil Kessel’d. Think of it this way: Assume this hypothetical offer sheet is accepted & not matched by the Avs. We surrender a 1st & 3rd. We have basically used a 3rd to travel back in time to select a top 10 pick who is ready to make an immediate impact on this team in a position we are paper thin on. (I realize O’Reilly was drafted in the second round, but he also made the NHL as an 18 year old and has played in super tough situations since then)
    I realize I have barely coherently rambled on making very few new points (and even mentioning time travel) so I will just stop now.

    • T&A4Flames

      Or… We crap the bed. We have him but could have had Jones or Drouin, etc. O’Reilly is now a 35-45 point center who is our new Gary Leeman. I would rather us keep our homerun opportunity.

    • RKD

      If the hypothetical offer sheet is accepted, we gave up a 1st, a 3rd, and two roster players for O’Rielly (we would have to eat the contracts of likely two players to make room for the 4.5-5mil). This is exactly my point. O’Rielly is not worth those 4 assests. Forget your collective hatred for Stajan and Babchuck for a second and realize that 2 roster players and 2 picks is worth more than this. 18 goals and 37 assists, by the way, is not EXACTLY what we need. Alex Tanguay already provides those kinds of numbers for 3.5 over the next 4. You will remember, when Tanguay made 5 mil, NOBODY thought 18 and 37 was enough. The problem is, O’Reilly is probably worth 3.5 right now. Do you really want to over pay that much betting that he’ll get even better? Like we did with Stajan? (who was a young second line Center at the time) Or Bourque? (Who was playing on the first line)

      All I’m saying is that offer sheets are not an efficient way to aquire players.

  • RKD

    It’s a good idea but I don’t think it’s the Flames MO to sign guys to offer sheets. I think they would prefer to keep building and developing from within.

    Plus, if he is as good as advertised Colorado will match. The Oilers signed Vanek to an offer sheet, and the Sabres were quick to match.

  • McRib

    @dustin642 “We aren’t going to pick a player of this caliber with either our 1st or 3rd, especially if we make the playoffs”

    Clearly you haven’t been following this years draft crop!!!!! Like in 2003 you would have to go out of your way to not get a surefire Top. 6 forward in the first round, its a once in a DECADE draft.

    Personally even though Ryan O’Reilly is just 21, I just don’t see him putting up more than 60-65 points EVER. He just isn’t that dynamic and is a player who peaked early, happens all the time!!!

    Second line centre at most, Backlund could easily be on par with him this season. Think Sam Gagner or Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron’s best season ever (73 points) was when he was 21, he has regressed on the stat sheet ever since.

  • McRib

    @kantsequentialis “All I’m saying is that offer sheets are not an efficient way to aquire players”

    You sir speak the truth!!!!!! Dustin Penner & Phil Kessel (for all intensive purposes) are reason enough, to stay the hell away from offer sheets.

    You gotta understand, Colorado doesn’t want to give him more than 4 million, because they watch him everyday and they just don’t think he’s getting any better than 60 points. Honestly Ryan O’Reilly has never impressed me once with his play. Jamie Benn on the other hand is a different story….

  • dustin642

    So… Don’t get O’Reilly because then we’d have to rid ourselves of Matt Stajan & Anton Babchuk.
    O’Reilly is, to you, comparable to Patrice Bergeron, and that ISN’T good enough.
    There are dozens and dozens of top 6 centers – who are capable to stepping into that role immediately in this years draft.

    K gotcha thanks for the super good hockey lesson.