Why Ryan O'Reilly Will be Tim Murray's Next Trade Acquisition

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The NHL trade deadline came and went without the Sabres making any ‘hockey trades.’ Tim Murray dumped off some players who were holding back the quest for 30th, which was aligned with the expectations of Sabre fans.

But now I wanted to take some time and forecast what Murray’s next ‘hockey trade’ will look like. And yes… as the title implies, the target is Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly.

Ryan O’Reilly's History

Whenever talking about a trade, the first thing I like to do is view it from the other team’s perspective. It is a huge pet-peeve of mine when a fan suggests that their team should go trade for a player that an organization would be insane to trade. Fans love the ‘video game trade’ and tend to assume GMs can acquire anyone they want. It’s not that simple, it takes two tango and a trade must make sense for both sides.

Anyway let’s talk Ryan O’Reilly.

Ryan O’Reilly (ROR) was drafted in the 2nd round by the Avs 33rd overall back in 2009, after they picked up Matt Duchene in round one (Not a bad draft at all!).  ROR immediately made the jump to the NHL as an 18 year old and had a modest first two seasons to his career. However in year three ROR really came onto the scene. The then 21 year old finished the year with 55 points in 81 games, and established himself as an exceptional two-way center.

This point also marked the end of ROR’s entry level contract, making him a restricted free agent. This is when his relationship with the Avs front office began to sour. With the lockout looming, ROR never agreed to a contract extension with Colorado and elected to go play with his brother in the KHL in Russia. When the lockout ended ROR and the Avs still were unable to reach a contract agreement, this holdout forced ROR to miss regular season games (something you rarely see in the NHL. In fact ROR may be the only player to have this happen post 2005 lockout.) A month into the shortened lockout season O’Reilly signed a two year ten million dollar offer sheet from the Calgary Flames. The Avalanche matched, and ROR joined the team for the remainder of the already shortened season. He finished the awkward year with 20 ponts in 29 games as the Avalanche finished near the bottom of the standings.

That summer the Avs brought in a new head coach, Patrick Roy, and drafted Nathan Mackinnon 1st overall after winning the draft lottery. Things immediately changed for the Avalanche and ROR played a major role as the team went from worst to first in a very competitive Central Division. ROR had career highs in points and goals, but perhaps most impressively took only one penalty the entire season.  

This was good enough to make him the winner of the Lady Byng Memorial trophy, which is awarded to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. An honor that had previously been split between future Hall of Famers, Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis, seven of the last eight years.

And by the way, the two penalty minutes ROR acquired in 2013-14 came on this unfavorable sequence…

Colorado’s Dilemma

Last summer O’Reilly’s play earned him a two year 12 million dollar extension from the Avs after another game of hardball was played during negotiations. This contract makes ROR an unrestricted free agent next summer in 2016. A dilemma arises for the Avalanche as this date gets closer. It seems dubious that a long-term contract extension will be reached between the two parties before ROR hits free agency given how the prior two negotiations have went. Hockey fans have heard Tim Murray stress all year how important it is to get return on pending UFAs and that he never wants to let anyone walk away for nothing. I’m certain Avs GM Joe Sakic has the same philosophy and he must demand enormous return on O’Reilly since he is a big-time bargaining chip. This isn’t Drew Stafford or Torrey Mitchell. We are talking about a 24 year old two-way center about to enter the prime of his career.  If ROR hit the open market, teams would be salivating at the chance to sign him.

Even with O’Reilly currently having a down year, I believe Joe Sakic will attempt to do everything in his power to re-sign ROR to a contract extension. The Avalanche have a great young core of forwards with Landeskog, Duchene, Mackinnon, and O’Reilly. If I am Joe Sakic I want to build around that as those players enter their primes. Last summer Colorado failed to re-sign Paul Stastny and watched him walkaway via free agency for nothing in return. This was a big step backward for the Avs, but Joe Sakic has learned from his mistake and will be more proactive with the ROR situation this summer:

Ryan, I'm anticipating that we'll try to re-sign him this summer.... Absolutely, he's one of our core players, so we'll try to get that done in the offseason. With that being said, it is a situation where we're not going to want those distractions going on next year, either. So we'll try to sign him in the offseason here.”

If I am Joe Sakic my primary goal is to reach terms on a contract extension with ROR, but if this cannot be done, it is time to make a trade. Colorado absolutely cannot afford to let another stud forward walk away for nothing in return.

If it is true that Sakic does not want to deal with the ROR distraction going into next season, this will expedite the time table on Colorado’s dilemma. This summer becomes make or break for ROR and the Avs...  It will be either extension or trade. Based on the two prior contract negotiations between the sides, my prediction is that ROR will be traded at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres

Tim Murray has made it clear that he wants to speed up the rebuilding process. (Getty)

Tim Murray has made it clear that he wants to speed up the rebuilding process. (Getty)

If there is one thing we know about Tim Murray at this point it is that he oozes over the idea of adding prospects who are already a few years into their development. He talked about this idea for 11 months and then walked the walk by acquiring Evander Kane. With all the picks and young prospects already in the Sabres system it would make sense for Murray to go ahead and make one more “hockey trade,” in which multiple pieces are given up for one bigger piece.

So now, are there any players that fit this criteria who can be had via trade? HINT we just talked about him extensively. ROR would be a great fit with a young Sabres team and help accelerate the rebuild. O’Reilly is shutdown center, who can produce 65-70 points annually, and also possesses the ‘tough to play against’ trait Tim Murray desires. IF *knock on wood* the Sabres can finish the tank and draft McEichel, you are looking at a team with some scary scoring potential for a long time. Putting a checking line centered by O’Reilly (possibly with Girgensons on the wing or vice versa) would be an X factor come playoff time. This line could match-up against an opponents’ top offensive players all series long, which in return would create better match-ups for the Sabres’ top goal scorers. Not to mention, this line could chip in offensively too. I’m sold on the idea of having ROR on the Sabres team going forward, why would Sabre fans not want someone like him? But the real question is, how much is it going to cost and is it worth it?

The Cost

Obviously, Buffalo would be running a risk by trading valuable assets for a player on an expiring contract. The Sabres would be taking a gamble on their ability to re-sign ROR, as he could still not agree to an extension with the team then go ahead and test the open market next July. Ask the Islanders how the Thomas Vanek trade worked out.

But with that being said, Buffalo has the cap space and the deep pockets of Pegula to get a deal done. I am confident that the Sabres would resign O’Reilly upon trading for him. The Sabres are in an ideal position with regards to the salary cap, which not many other teams can say (Cap is not expected to rise much this summer). Another important thing to remember is that with all these young guns Buffalo has, they are still on entry level deals, and once those expire, bridge contracts will most likely be signed. Cap space issues for the Sabres and their young talent is at least five years away.  Buffalo could afford to give O’Reilly around six or seven million per year over the next six years.

So what would the Sabres have to give up in a trade for ROR?

If I put my Joe Sakic hat back on here is what I am demanding: I need a young D man, a forward replacement for ROR, and a 1st round pick in the deep 2015 draft.

So now does Tim Murray give up the likes of McCabe/Psysk/Zadorov, Larsson/Grigorenko and his second 1st rounder to get this done?

No other team has the surplus of prospects and picks along with the cap space available to compete with Buffalo on a trade front. The ball is in Murray’s court, how badly does he want ROR? It’s much like Pegula buying the Bills, he can outbid anyone if he desires.

Final Prediction

Tim Murray gets it done. This February, we learned that Tim Murray is not afraid of the blockbuster trade, if he wants someone badly, he will pay the high price to make it happen. Murray will only want to give up the late 1st round pick and a prospect, but other teams can compete with that offer. In the end, Murray will boost the offer to outbid any suitors and bring O’Reilly to Buffalo.

My final prediction: On draft day Tim Murray makes another splash after drafting Jack Eichel 2nd overall, by sending the second of Buffalo’s two 1st round picks, Jake McCabe, and Mikhail Grigorenko to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for 24 year old center Ryan O’Reilly.