Restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly has been nothing but excellent for the team that drafted him in 2009.
The lucky team landing the former Erie Otter at 33rd overall was Colorado, who subsequently made O’Reilly the youngest Avalanche player ever by awarding him a gig on opening night in 2009-’10. The gritty, bullish pivot cracked the roster right out of camp, and quickly proved that he could hang with the big-dogs despite his age, and his average stature.
In hindsight, the player could have easily been mistaken for a first rounder. His young career has certainly had its share of “firsts”. O’Reilly went first overall in the 2007 OHL draft. He was also the first player drafted outside of the first round to make the NHL in his draft year in six seasons. His first point came in his first game; naturally, on the first of October; an assist versus the Sharks of San Jose, and his first goal was also a game-winner the same month versus the Habs. His seven-game point streak throughout the first three weeks of October stood as a record among rookies in the ‘09-10 season.
Known for his incredible work ethic and commitment to two-way play, Ryan became a leader in Colorado in special teams. He was the first player in Avs history to score two short-handed goals in one game, a feat performed against the Blue Jackets while Paul Stastny sat for a double minor.
Whew…that’s a whole lot of hockey player in one six-foot, two hundred pound package. So, what the hell is Colorado doing letting him leave? Well, it’s a little complicated. The guy is worth his weight in gold, no question. Thing is, he’s looking for a minimum of five million a season. That’s big bucks, considering the club has to think about other top talents it will need to spend large on to keep happy in the Mile-High City. Gabe Landeskog and Matt Duchene come to mind. And considering the fact that he has never come close to a thirty-goal season, five big ones is a pretty ballsy demand to make.
Suffice to say, both sides are well dug-in here, and the time has come to bury the matter and do what serves both the player and the organization. O’Reilly has not, nor will he, report to the last-place Avs, and a trade is the only alternative at this juncture.
One Insider claims Colorado demands a roster guy and a top prospect in return for the 22 year-old, two-way pivot. At 5 large a copy needed to lock the kid up, the pickin’s will be slim, but I believe Toronto could find itself leading the pack here, if Dave Nonis is so-inclined.
While both Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin convalesce with a busted arm, and a surgically repaired knee (minor procedure) respectively, the Buds have some thinking to do about the minor log-jam it faces in the coming weeks. Suffice to say, Lupul goes nowhere, after being re-upped and appointed alternate captain. He also appears to be something of the straw that stirs Kessel’s drink.
While it wouldn’t shock to learn that negotiations would likely involve the high-flying Frattin, it is the writer’s opinion that it behooves the organization to hold on to number thirty-nine, and make other arrangements. What follows is a short list of assets I think the Leafs could part with in order to get Ryan O’Reilly sporting the Blue and White.
1. Joe Colborne. Jumbo is a guy who has shown flashes of greatness, playing at a point a game or damn-near, when healthy. He works exceptionally hard on all areas of his game, and is growing into that 6’6’’ frame of his. I think he’s half a year away from becoming a third line centre in the NHL.
2. Carl Gunnarsson. Health issues notwithstanding, Gunner is a top four defender with a nice balance of youth and experience. Approaching his prime years, he can pinch when it pays to do so, and he can generally be relied on to make the right decisions with or without the puck. Not overly physical, but smart, low-maintenance, and skilled.
3. Clarke MacArthur. C-Mac is an excellent teammate who gives you twenty goals a year from the second line. While not a big man, he’s rugged, shows no fear, and plays an aggressive skill-game. What’s not to like?
4. Ryan Hamilton. He’s doing absolutely everything right, by all accounts. He’s got good breakaway speed, he protects the puck well with his 6’2’’ body, and he has some nifty hands in tight as well. He’s the Marlies captain for a reason. All he needs is a chance to contribute in a bottom six role and he’s a legit NHL’er, in my opinion. While not the centerpiece of the deal, he’s an attractive commodity nonetheless.
5. Mkihail Grabovski. I’m a Grabo guy. Have been since he bounced back from a controversial season in 2010, spending the summer working with Pavel Datsyuk. He’s as courageous and as driven as they come. He’ll barrel into the end boards to chase down a loose puck, battle along the wall with his last breath, and, as Brandon Prust and Max Pacioretty recently learned, he doesn’t back down. With Grabo, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, not the inverse. Avoidance of overused puns very much intentional. He’s a beauty, but with Bozak (who won’t be appearing on this list), Kadri, McClement and Steckel all capable centremen, adding Ryan “O” makes someone expendable. I don’t think he ends up in COL based on the numbers, but who’s to say a three-way with DET can’t be worked out? They’d love Grabo and Gunnarsson in the Motor City. Swedes and Russians are kind of a big deal there…
6. Nik Kulemin. PITT wants him bad. Apparently, it would take the Sutter kid to make it go, and that’s not happening. Shero says so. I’d gladly take Ryan “O” in Sutter’s stead, even if it meant a prospect like D’Amigo, or whatever could be had as a result of the aforementioned DET negotiation ends up heading to Colorado.
Back to Bozak. Yes, he loves Colorado. And, yes, he has been called a poor man’s Paul Stastny by some. Correct me if I’m wrong (use the comment box below), but I do believe Bozie once referenced Stastny as a guy he patterns his game after. My problem with trading Bozak is Phil Kessel. He’s proven to be the one constant that Kessel has had here under the blue and white bubble, and, while not a Krejci, Kesler, or a Getzlaf, he’s a very dependable two way playmaking centreman who has a knack for handling the occasionally harrowing, frequently annoying media distractions that comes with playing in Toronto. He also happens to be Kessel’s best bud, and trading him when your star player needs a new deal after next year might actually suck.
Some may argue (rightfully) that such is life in the privileged world of pro hockey, and Phil should suck it up. To that, I submit part of that privilege includes a no movement clause that kicks in in a number of months, and the right to decide where he plays the rest of his career. In short, fan rhetoric aside, Kessel is in the driver’s seat. If the Leafs want him to stick and stay, the Leafs had best consider what it takes to make him want to do so, and trading his best friend out of Toronto might not be the best way to appeal to him. Are they a package deal then? That could possibly work as well, but that’s not the point of this exercise. Rating O’Reilly and his it with the Leafs is. O’Reilly is a legitimate 2C in Toronto, all day, every day. He makes special teams tough to play against, and he makes the Leafs’ supporting cast like Frattin all the more effective. Yup, he’s the guy in the two-hole the Leafs are dying for, unless Kadri proves otherwise over the next season. While I might be tempted to ink Ryan O’Reilly for four years at close to the five million mark, it would have to be at the expense of Grabovski, and it would come with the unwritten understanding that Kadri will want similar money sooner than later. Kadri is Toronto’s Matt Duchene, in my opinion. Supremely skilled, and capable of dominating a game, but he has something yet to prove. I’d be thinking about that when structuring Nazem’s new deal.
A Toronto top six featuring Phil Kessel, JvR, Lupul, Bozak, Frattin and O’Reilly means that they also have some firepower on the third line in Kadri, and likely a guy like Tyler Biggs next year. It also means that Nonis has successfully recycled valuable assets like Grabo and Kuley, which may produce good prospects, high picks, or even a goalie if the right candidate can be shaken out in negotiations. MacArthur as a placeholder on the third line until Biggs makes the jump doesn’t hurt my feelings. Neither does Mike Brown, for that matter.
I get that Bozak isn’t a bonafide 1C. But he’s a nice, reliable placeholder until one of Kadri, Colborne, or perhaps Ryan O’ Reilly take the gig from him.