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 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.