Well, that ended rather abruptly. A lot went on, and here's my final thoughts:
The Avalanche had to match
I could go into a long detailed post about it, but there's a really good one here by Hockey Prospectus. Bottom line, Calgary is already a better team than their record indicates, and the addition of O'Reilly would have made them even better, making their 1st round pick a marginal asset. The Avs had to match.
The Avalanche management lost - Big.
The lynchpin of the Avs harball strategy was that no other team was going to be willing try and offer sheet O'Reilly. The gamble here was that: if a team did throw an offer sheet the Avs way, it was going to have to be huge, or the Avs would easily match. Well the offer sheet was huge and the Avs still (correctly) matched within hours.
Reports surfaced that the O'Reilly camp probably would have settled for ~$4M/year over the next 2 seasons. Now they have a cap hit of $5M over the next two.
But the bigger loss comes in what they have to Qualify O'Reilly at the end of this contract. Because of the way Calgary structured this contract the Avs matched they will have to qualify ROR at $6.5M. The only other thing they can do is file for arbitration and hope the arbitrator agrees with Avs management. IF that happens the minimum the arbitrator can award is 85% of $6.5M, which is $5.525M. So, the very minimum the Avs will be paying ROR after next season is more than they would have paid him if they just caved to his demands in the first place. Had they negotiated they certainly would have come out of this much, much better off.
Oh, and for added pleasure, as Adrian Dater points out, this bare minimum $5.525M contract will come when Gabe Landeskog and Matt Duchene are up for contracts, meaning this could have the ripple effect that everyone feared paying O'Reilly more than the original $3.5 offer would lead to.
There's also any lingering residual feelings that may be out there, between the Avs and O'Reilly or the Avs and Calgary. Not to mention this protracted negotiation certainly helped further alienate a fanbase that has already, in general, has a tenous view of Avs management after years of losing and a recent NHL lockout. This played into the, sometimes overstated but mostly earned, perception by many (although not all) fans that Avs management cares more about nickel and dimes than their hockey team.
Again, the Avs put themselves in this predicament. They refused to negotiate on their, fair, $3.5M contract offer. An RFA offer sheet was always a possibility, one that became more likely as teams saw their playof hopes falter and needing to make a big splash.
The end result was an unmitigated consummate catastrophe for Greg Sherman and the rest of Avs management.
Avalanche, the hockey team, won big
The only place where the Avs come out ahead, albeit 6 weeks late and for $2M more, is on the ice.
The current NHL standings have the Avs four points (and five teams) outside a playoff spot, and they have a game in hand over the next 4 above them. They are five points, and an astounding eight teams, outside the #5 seed in the playoffs. Of those 8 teams the Avs have a better Fenwick close than 3 of them (EDM, MIN, NSH) and are within spitting distance of another (PHX). This fenwick comes, mostly, without Landeskog, Erik Johnson, Ryan Wilson and Ryan O'Reilly. The Avs are adding three of these four very good players within a week. They have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs.
But had the Avs settled with O'Reilly early they may have been in even better shape. Certainly he may have helped with that 4-1 blown lead against Edmonton. It's easy to sit back and throw what if's out (O'Reilly could have aggravated his ankle injury and been out for the season. The contract dispute could have been a blessing in disguise for healing his ankle), but it's hard not to think this team would be in better shape with 15 or so more games of O'Reilly in the lineup.
The NHL's future RFAs lost.
By matching The Avs confirmed what many GMs site as the lack of RFA offers in general: Why go through the trouble of crafting an offer that's going to be met? My guess is that the Avs would have to have been blown away in compensation in order to not match an RFA offer sheet. According to the compensation list, I think that would have had to have been a $6.7M+ salary and compensation of 2 1st round picks, a second round pick and a third round pick.
But another team would have had to have been astooundingly crazy to offer that to ROR. (Calgary couldn't have, because they didn't have a second round pick.) This saga exposed how broken the RFA system is. A $5M (cap hit) is quite the substantial offer for a player, and the compensation is only a 1st and a 3rd. If the players union want a real RFA system that works they need to negotiate higher compensation for offer sheets. The NHLPA can do that in, oh, 7-10 years.
Indirectly the Avs can claim to have kept RFA salaries down, since the offer sheet will become even more rare after this. It only cost them dearly in the short term.