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Options For O’Reilly Could Be Realistic

Posted on February 21, 2013 by Chris Ostrander

In what is becoming an annual rite of passage (of sorts), Ryan O’Reilly has joined the esteemed list of trade prospects for Buffalo Sabres fans to drool over.

With the team on the ice languishing, those hoping a deal for O’Reilly can be swung are growing more rabid by the day just as they did for Bobby Ryan last year and plenty of other before him. The lack of results on the ice has obviously driven more fans to push for change in the locker room, behind the bench and even in the front office. Acquiring such a talent might just appease a faction of the team’s angered followers.

O’Reilly is drawing comparisons to another former member of the Avalanche who came to Buffalo via trade. While O’Reilly lacks the Little League World Series pedigree of Chris Drury, his two-way play makes him an effective asset up the middle. He put up 55 points (18+37) with a poor Colorado squad last season, his third after stepping directly out of the OHL into the show.

I draw comparisons to Patrice Bergeron when I think of O’Reilly. Both are capable two-way centers who can fill an effective role shutting down the opposition’s top forwards while still contributing offensively. Technically, Bergeron fills the role of a third line center with the Bruins and that happens to be a similar role filled by Chris Drury during his time here.

That’s the exact place I’d put O’Reilly should a deal be swung to bring him in. Allow Kevin Porter and Mikhail Grigorenko to fill space on the top two lines while O’Reilly serves as your “third” center in the two way role that is MIA with the current roster. The need for an effective two-way center who can win some key faceoffs while adding responsible defensive play has been haunting the Sabres. That is the role that O’Reilly can fill and he can also be expected to chip in on the offensive side too.

The money he’s looking for shouldn’t be an issue. He’s going to command somewhere north of $4.5M on his new deal and a $5M cap hit isn’t out of the question. That is a whole lot to pay a player who will ultimately center your third line, but using Bergeron ($5M cap hit) as a comparable puts O’Reilly’s demands right in line with market value.

Acquiring O’Reilly is another issue entirely. Throwing out an offer sheet for $5M per year seems pointless to me. While the Avalanche aren’t willing to pay him that much, they can still match the offer, get him on the ice and trade him later on. Signing him to a poisonous deal (like Kevin Lowe tried with Vanek) does nothing other than handicap your team’s cap situation while sacrificing a number of draft picks. The only viable option is to attempt to reach the level of return the Avs are requesting via trade.

Various reports have tied the asking price to an NHL-ready top-six forward along with a top prospect. An additional draft pick would certainly be included depending on what comes back from Colorado or which players are included by Colorado’s eventual trade partner.

Truth is there isn’t a single player on Buffalo’s roster that should be considered untouchable – well, maybe Thomas Vanek. Considering the Avs were tied to a rejected deal that had Michael Del Zotto and either Chris Kreider or JT Miller coming from the Rangers, it is safe to say that any deal from Buffalo will need to be significant.

It is obvious that the Avs will want to ensure they keep an NHL ready forward in this deal while also obtaining help along the blueline. They’re also a rebuilding club, so eliminate any offer that would include a UFA of Buffalo’s current roster (see Leopold, Jordan). What interests me is which asset is more valuable to the Avs. Are they starving for another top-six forward, or would a significant defensive addition be of greater worth to them?

I’d like to think that Drew Stafford would be a nice player to start with, but Stafford on paper is much different than the Stafford on the ice this season. A few names that would likely perk up Greg Sherman’s ears include; Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Myers (maybe not), Andrej Sekera, Joel Armia, TJ Brennan, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk.

I’d be cautious to offer Myers only because of his struggles this year and the fact that Sherman already dealt for another struggling defenseman a couple of years ago. However, I do think that the Sabres have some pieces that could spur trade talks with the Avs.

Starting with Ennis and inserting Brennan, McNabb or Pysyk would give the Avalanche a talented offensive player who could contribute on the wing or at center while adding a young defensive prospect capable of stepping onto an NHL roster tomorrow. Depending on how Colorado embraced the deal, a draft pick could always be included to sweeten the pot. That particular package would provide Colorado two roster players and a future piece to build from. Ultimately I think that’s the target they’re aiming at.

While many reports say the Avs aren’t looking for a center, I would contend that they will entertain any offer that will immediately improve their roster. In addition to the offer to the Rangers, they have also been connected to Sean Couturier who just happens to be a center. This is an organization looking to improve and trading O’Reilly is how they hope to do so. I doubt they would scoff at an offer for an offensive talent just because he is a center, particularly one who can flip to wing.

In my opinion Tyler Ennis represents an expendable asset for the Sabres, especially when acquiring a center. With Grigorenko and Hodgson on the roster – and assuming they’re acquiring O’Reilly – Ennis becomes expendable. Using his talent as leverage in any sort of trade would be wise.

Obviously playing armchair GM is a good time but I’m certainly no expert. This is simply the type of trade I could see Regier approaching the Avalanche with. It would be very easy to flip the pieces to be Myers and Armia or even Stafford or Foligno accompanied by Pysyk and a draft pick. In fact, the Sabres may need to stretch to a package that includes two roster players (lets just say Ennis and Stafford), a prospect (Pysyk) and a pick just to ensure they offer enough to land their guy.

Either way you’re going to be shipping one piece from the active roster and one significant prospect in this trade. It’s also important to remember that the Avs – like any other team – aren’t interested in accepting garbage in exchange for riches.

(Chris Ostrander is the publisher of “Two In the Box”—a well written blog covering the Buffalo Bills, Sabres, Bandits, UB as well as other sports teams and items locally. He’s also an occasional contributor for Buffalo Sports Daily and other blogs that cover Buffalo sports.  You can check out all his articles by clicking the logo below.)


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