By Allan Muir
Now that the Colorado Avalanche appear ready to step boldly into a post-Ryan O’Reilly future, it’s worth asking who would be willing to take the reluctant pivot off their hands…and what sort of compensation they might offer for his services.
The asking price, according to multiple sources, is a current top-six forward and a top prospect. A pretty steep fare, especially considering the multi-year, $5 million per season contract it’s going to take to keep him happy once he shows up.
No, he’s not worth the money he’s asking, at least not right now. But the 22-year-old is a heart-and-soul player, a proven defensive warrior and a blossoming playmaker with a chance to develop into a 60- to 70-point scorer in his prime. He brings the sort of complete, two-way package that 29 other teams will at least take a look at.
So let’s separate the tire kickers from the teams most likely to ante up.
Jets: Earlier this week, Andrew Ladd called out his teammates for their continued lack of effort. Sounded harsh, but it was a fair assessment. Right now, he’s captain of a ship that has way too many passengers. Any penalty the Jets take is an invitation to disaster with their league-worst PK bumbling along at 67.5 percent, and their inability to control the puck in their own zone has them 25th in goals-against. This is a team that needs an infusion of the night-in, night-out hustle that ROR provides. Streaky center Bryan Little or young Alex Burmistrov, along with promising blueliner Paul Postma, might work. Not cheap, but it would send a message.
Panthers: Outside of Winnipeg, they may be the team most willing to pay the price. Florida is floundering in the Eastern Conference basement and the farm is loaded with young promise that’s still a year or more away. If the Panthers want to maintain any of the momentum they built last year, they need an infusion of “right now” a lot more than “wait ’til next year.” That might mean parting with Nick Bjugstad.
Blue Jackets: There’s a sense out there that the Avs will only trade O’Reilly to the East. I’m not buying it. If the package that is most advantageous to them comes from a conference rival, I think they suck it up and take the chance of facing his righteous fury four times a year. O’Reilly is a player cut from John Davidson’s preferred cloth. His Blues favored athletes who were hard to play against, and ROR is every bit one of those. A package that starts with promising but inconsistent center Derick Brassard gets Colorado’s attention.
Islanders: Everything you know about them says they wouldn’t be a player here. ROR is too expensive, his term demands are daunting, and Ryan Strome is on the way. Still, outside of John Tavares, to whom among this perennial “wait til next year” bunch are the Isles married? ROR would be a clear upgrade over Frans Nielsen and would buy time for Strome to develop. They have disgruntled prospect Nino Niederreiter or underperforming winger Kyle Okposo to craft an offer around. Either could have appeal to the Avs. Colorado might even like Nielsen, who is in the first year of a four-year deal at $2.75 million per season. That’s a contract that seems to fit their model.
Sabres: Outside of one satisfying beatdown of the Bruins, their off-season commitment to playing meaner hasn’t paid dividends. They stick up for themselves, but their pants are dropping while their fists are up. They’re at a massive disadvantage at the dots, dead last with a winning percentage that’s struggling to stay above 43 percent…and it only gets worse in their own zone. Fortunately, they have nearly a dozen young assets that might interest the Avs. Not sure I believe that Tyler Myers is among them, but I’ve heard his name mentioned as being available in the right deal. If not him, then World Junior Championship Team USA captain Jake McCabe or Mark Pysyk, along with a solid roster player, could get it done.
Maple Leafs: Toronto needs help down the middle and would appear to have plenty of assets to swing the deal. Tyler Bozak makes sense on one level — youngish center, former Denver Pioneer, lives in the area — but he’s a UFA after this season. Can’t imagine Colorado wanting him without reassurances of his future intent. The Leafs may not want to part with Jake Gardiner, but they have other young defenders (Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy) to backfill that gap. And it may take Gardiner, the slick American blueliner to get a deal off the ground.
Blackhawks: The dark horse. Logic suggests you don’t mess with a high-performing machine, but for all the grief that O’Reilly gets for his offense, he still brings more to the table than injury-prone Dave Bolland. No surprise then if GM Stan Bowman decides that ROR is exactly what he needs to put the Hawks over the top. They have plenty of young assets on the roster, though they might want to load a deal with futures rather than remove a piece of the current pie. Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Adam Clendening and Mark McNeill likely would be available.