The Colorado Avalanche may allow Ryan O’Reilly to finish out his hockey season in exile. The cold landscape of Russia is where he finds himself, with his brother Cal O’Reilly, playing for the Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL–even as his brethren Avalanche return to Denver. As the NHL lockout ends and the season begins next weekend, the unrestricted free agent is still waiting for his next contract.
Before the lockout, most assumed that O’Reilly’s dispute hinged on a new CBA that could more adequately address his value to the team. However, O’Reilly is the only Avalanche player who has not rejoined the squad and apparently a contract is not waiting to be signed at home. From all accounts, there is still distance between the club and their center.
O’Reilly led the Avalanche in both assists and points last season. His work ethic helped create a new leadership culture around the team that earned O’Reilly respect from his teammates. He has always filled the role asked of him, which early in his career was as a defensive forward. Then rookie of the year Gabriel Landeskog became O’Reilly’s linemate, which allowed him to showcase his offensive skill. Landeskog was awarded the captaincy this summer without O’Reilly being signed by the team. Despite Landeskog’s natural leadership ability, it was clear that O’Reilly led the team last year.
O’Reilly is a restricted free agent, which means the Avalanche hold the rights to his contract and could match any offer made by another NHL team. If no offer comes, O’Reilly has signed a two-year deal in the KHL. Matt Duchene, who entered the league the same year as O’Reilly, signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Avalanche, which set a ceiling for O’Reilly.
Basically, the Avalanche do not have a player to fill the void if O’Reilly is not re-signed. If the Avalanche are serious about bringing back fans and improving their team, they will make O’Reilly an offer he can’t refuse.