Avs future uncertain without O’Reilly
There is trouble brewing in Colorado Avalanche-land and the tumultuous, snowy slide shows no signs of slowing.
Of course the issue involves center Ryan O’Reilly, arguably the best player on the club for the entirety of last season. It is no secret that ongoing contract negotiations between the 21-year-old blue-collar type and the parent club are on the rocks. O’Reilly obviously isn’t with the team and, unless he’s already on a plane back to the states, there is no chance he plays for Colorado when they open tomorrow against the Minnesota Wild, in Minnesota. Adrian Dater of the Denver Post is reporting that O’Reilly has been offered both $17 million over five years or $7 million over two, neither of which have been accepted by the skater.
The Avalanche may not feel his absence for a few games, feeding on the energy of a new, unpredictable season and some quality additions to the roster but they will when the bulk of the season looms large on the horizon. The absence of O’Reilly, who is currently playing on a two-year contract worth around $4 million for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, will change the entire dynamic of the Avalanche. Without him, the club is immediately easier to play against. Don’t forget the kid was tops in the entire NHL in takeaways, tenth in the league – and second on the Avs – in face off wins, tied with Paul Stastny for the lead in team face offs taken, played more time per game than all other Avalanche forwards – and most defensemen, lead Colorado in points and assists, and was on the ice in many a crucial moment.
O’Reilly is a specialist, an expert at his craft. He is probably the best two-way player on the club and will no doubt win the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward in the near future – he was on the ballots of many in the sports media last time.
Without this anchor, who played between Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie, Colorado is down to two solid face off aficionados, Stastny and – hopefully – John Mitchell. Matt Duchene will become a more integral part of the puck drop, but the 22-year old took nearly 1100 less attempts than O’Reilly did just last season. Then Colorado has to rely on their bottom lines and hodgepodge units more as they don’t have a top defensive forward to help out on the penalty kill. They will have to elect another person to lean on for 19-20 minutes a game, one that will hold up to the wear and tear as well.
There is also the work ethic aspect. This kid has been seen running the stadium and throwing the medicine ball after losses, never accepting of his game and unrelenting in his desire to be as good as he can possibly be. He is driven, motivated by his fire and ambition. That is something you cannot ask another player to do, it is a mentality.
While there is seemingly no end in sight to the dispute between Colorado and their talented young center – which didn’t end well for guys like Chris Drury once a long time ago – a surefire way to get things moving is if another team ponies up some draft picks and an offer sheet for O’Reilly. The back and forth games, posturing, and holding back go up in flames when another team – and who wouldn’t be interested in him?- enters the game and changes the rules. O’Reilly is certainly worth a gamble in the Draft as he is more proven than an unproven rookie, and worst case scenario for the offering team is that Colorado matches – see the Shea Weber situation.
Unless this happens – and it won’t – the drama between Denver and Russia could play out for much longer. The Avs are in trouble if O’Reilly misses all 48 games in the shortened season and it won’t go over well with his teammates either. Colorado looks competitive this year but everything is up in the air while one of their most elite skaters is playing on the other side of the world.
What do you think? Will a deal get done? Are you worried? Can the Avs find success without him?