We’ve moved past the quarter-mark of the 2013 season and Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly is still refusing to sign a contract with the Colorado Avalanche. Patience is wearing thin in Denver and the trade rumors have already begun to swirl, with several teams supposedly in the mix including the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Sabres, Senators, and Rangers.
But who really has the leverage in these talks? Is it the Avalanche, who would be dealing a player coming off his best season, or does O’Reilly’s stalemate tactic ultimately pit the Avs against themselves?
O’Reilly continues to wait for a contract in the neighborhood of $5 million per year in Colorado. Is he even worth that kind of money? He’s never broken the 20-goal plateau in a season, he’s topped 50 points only once, and he led the Avs in scoring last season when the team was ranked 23rd in the NHL offensively. Doesn't sound much like a player worth $5 million.
Nobody is saying O’Reilly isn’t a rising talent or that he won’t be worth that money one day, but he hasn’t earned it yet. O’Reilly hopes to get paid based on one season and the Avs are dug in against it. After the recent remarks by his father, O’Reilly certainly seems on his way out.
But where? The asking price has been sky-high as reported by many, with Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons noting the other day that Colorado wasn’t even asking for particular players, but rather just welcoming offers.
Strange: The Avalanche haven't told GMs what the price is for Ryan O'Reilly. They're saying: Make an offer. Most GMs are puzzled by this.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) February 19, 2013
Even in the alleged discussions that have leaked, such as that of the Rangers sending Michael Del Zotto and a prospect (Miller? Kreider?) to the Avalanche, the price seems ludicrous. The Rangers wouldn’t move those players for Rick Nash. Are they really going to move them for Ryan O’Reilly, a player they already know will be willing to hold their feet to the fire the next time he hits the market?
The Leafs might have been a team in desperate need the moment Joffrey Lupul went down, but Matt Frattin, James van Riemsdyk, and Nazem Kadri have been a terrific boost and have the Leafs vying for playoff position even with limited goal production from Phil Kessel. If Dave Nonis is going to burn prospects, it will be to land goaltending, not O’Reilly.
The most obvious landing spot is Ottawa, with two of their best offensive players finished long-term in Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. But Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported the price was again too steep, with a roster player, a prospect, and a pick going in the proposed deal.
And then there’s the Sabres, fresh off the firing of Lindy Ruff and obviously desperate to turn things around for THIS season. Do they bite and move prospects to deepen their scoring or do they use those resources to shore up a defense that has been absolutely awful? Perhaps most glaringly, is Ruff’s firing an indication that GM Darcy Regier's days are numbered as well? Would ownership even allow him to make any long-term deals? Buffalo is a volatile place these days and yesterday’s ‘change of direction’ will either make them very desperate to change their roster, or very cautious to make commitments.
So the Avs are left with limited buyers - buyers who would likely be more than content to see O’Reilly remain on the shelf this season and let the Avalanche continue to bid against themselves as the relationship between player and organization deteriorates. If a player like Nash somehow became a concern as a potential locker room cancer, this O’Reilly situation will eventually worsen.
When a team isn’t willing to pay a player $5 million, they certainly aren’t in a position to request the trade package a $5 million player would draw. They’ll try to force the Northeast division to bid against itself, but in the end the price will come down and the Avs will be viewing this entire situation as a lost opportunity.
If I could guess, O’Reilly will be a Senator. Time will tell if it’s this year.