Ryan O’Reilly is a very good player locked in a contract dispute with a division rival. Not only that, but his skill-set as a two-way centre who kills penalties, wins faceoffs and drives play in the right direction is a great fit for the Oilers’ organizational needs.
Despite that, they shouldn’t offer the restricted free agent an offer sheet.
The reasons are pretty straight forward:
- An offer-sheet almost certainly won’t work.
- The Oilers have a host of restricted free agents in the next few years that are ripe for reprisal/may look enviously at O’Reilly’s big raise.
- The Oilers have a very, very recent history of having the best pick in the draft.
- The Oilers don’t own their third-round draft pick
Restricted Free Agents
Over the next three summers, the Oilers have the following impressive list of core players entering restricted free agency:
- Sam Gagner
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- Jeff Petry
- Justin Schultz
- Nail Yakupov
Those are five potentially big tickets, and that’s not even getting into guys like Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi.
This summer alone, the Oilers may find themselves in an interesting position with Sam Gagner, should he keep scoring the way he has. They opted to sign him to a one-year deal last summer, but if he keeps scoring at a point-per-game pace (or close to it) over a shortened season he’s going to command a fair-sized raise. That’s a problem because it’s really not clear if the organization sees him as a long-term fit, and it’s a bigger problem because the shortened season increases the chances that as offensive progression is a one-off rather than a true breakthrough.
The following is the RFA compensation range plausibly of interest with O’Reilly:
- Over $3,364,391 to $5,046,585 – 1st round pick, 3rd
- Over $5,046,585 to $6,728,781 – 1st round pick, 2nd, 3rd
- Over $6,728,781 To $8,410,976 – Two 1st Round Picks, 2nd, 3rd
Does a five-year/$25 million contract wrest O’Reilly free from the Avalanche? Does a one-year, $8 million deal? I doubt it very much, but before the conversation can even be considered the Oilers would need to reacquire this year’s third round pick from Dallas.
Even if the offer sheet was successful, at this point could the Oilers be confident that the first round draft pick being sent the other way wouldn’t be used on Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones or Jonathan Drouin? It seems probable that the Oilers will finish well enough to avoid that sort of embarrassment, but it isn’t assured – particularly if something like a Devan Dubnyk or Justin Schultz injury were to occur. On defence and in net the Oilers are painfully susceptible to a single injury to a crucial player.
What About A Trade?
One big issue with a trade is the difficulty of negotiating a fair deal with a current divisional (and likely future conference) rival. Another is properly valuing O’Reilly.
I think Ryan O’Reilly is a superb hockey player, but I also think that because so much of his value doesn’t stem from point production there’s a danger that his numbers drop off. O’Reilly is one season removed from a 26-point campaign. Even last year, during his 55-point effort, he was a fairly middling scorer relative to ice-time, scoring 1.75 points per hour of 5-on-5 play (for the sake of comparison, that would have put him sixth among Oilers forwards last year, just after Sam Gagner’s 1.96 and Ryan Smyth’s 1.93).
O’Reilly makes up for it by playing tough minutes and driving the play in the right direction, but as Shawn Horcoff has ably demonstrated those players don’t get stuck by through thick-and-thin when they aren’t scoring (fun fact of minimal value: both Horcoff and O’Reilly were credited with 62 hits in 81 games last season). O’Reilly’s younger and better than Horcoff, but like hte Oilers captain many of his most important contributions don’t show up on the scoreboard. It would take a brave G.M. to move a high-end roster player and a prospect (the reported asking price, according to Darren Dreger) to a division rival for a guy who may never put up gaudy offensive totals.
Naturally, the merits of any trade depend greatly on the details, so perhaps it’s possible that the Avalanche and Oilers could work out a mutually beneficial agreement that would see O’Reilly land in Edmonton. It seems highly unlikely, though.
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