2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Avalanche don’t have many options, if Ryan O’Reilly is unwilling to compromise

Published: June 18, 2014, 6:29 pm, by Angelo Stambene

When the Calgary Flames signed Ryan O’Reilly to an offer sheet two years ago, it put the Avalanche in a tough spot. The Avs either matched the offer, and paid him more than management wanted, or let him go to Calgary and receive two draft picks as compensation. The Avs elected to match the offer, and with a back-end-loaded contract, O’Reilly made $6.5 during his stellar campaign in 2013-14. With news that the Avalanche are taking O’Reilly to arbitration, it again puts the team in a less than envious position. The team, as well as its fans, love that O’Reilly plays a balanced game where he contributes at both ends of the ice, but the contention revolves around whether he is worth the $6.5 million that he made last season.

Columbus Blue Jackets' James Wisniewski (21) tries to slow down Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly (90). (The Associated Press)

Columbus Blue Jackets’ James Wisniewski (21) tries to slow down Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly (90). (The Associated Press)

To put that amount of money in perspective, O’Reilly’s salary would be higher than the best player on the team, Matt Duchene’s $6 million, as well as captain Gabriel Landeskog’s $5.571 million. The $6.5 million makes O’Reilly a top 50 paid player in the NHL, and though he’s an outstanding player, O’Reilly can’t be making that kind of money without adversely affecting the team.

Management would likely be happy to sign O’Reilly to a contract that might pay him more than Landeskog, but less than Duchene. This would allow the team to keep together one of the most impressive arsenals in the league, without committing salary that would hamper the team’s efforts to bring a Stanley Cup back to Colorado.

If O’Reilly believes he’s worth $6.5 million, the same amount that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks make, then the Avalanche don’t have many moves. The team could let O’Reilly force its hand again and sign him to an exaggerated contract, or part ways with the young and talented forward.

There are a multitude of teams that would be more than happy to employ O’Reilly. Given that the Avs need defensive help, a trade would make the most sense especially to teams that need offense. The Panthers have a young defenseman in Dmitry Kulikov, and Florida scored the second fewest goals during the season. The Sabres (fewest goals scored) have a former Calder Trophy winning (best rookie) defenseman who has seen his play slip in recent years. Tyler Myers is 6’8 without skates, and would provide a more physical presence that the Avs desperately need.

The type of defenseman that the Avs could demand for O’Reilly would be a game changer. He would bring balance to an Avalanche team that relies on young legs, offense and stellar goaltending with a little bit of defense sprinkled in. If the Avs can’t get O’Reilly to sign to a more manageable salary, then the best choice would be to trade him.