Let the speculation begin Buffalo Sabres fans.
In the past few days, a few outlets, some more reputable than others, have come out and said that the Sabres have interest in the yet-to-be signed Ryan O’Reilly. The Colorado Avalanche have been through fits trying to sign the 22-year old restricted free agent center, with the issues seemingly amplifying since the lockout lifted.
Many teams have had issues with their RFAs this offseason. The Montreal Canadiens couldn’t lock up PK Subban until a few games into the season, with the same situation occurring in for the Dallas Stars and Jamie Benn. The Winnipeg Jets had trouble inking Evander Kane and the Sabres needed until the day before the lockout to sign Tyler Ennis.
There were a lot of rumors surrounding Subban when he began the season without a deal, but nothing like what has been floating around with O’Reilly the past few days. Many have speculated that O’Reilly’s days are over in Colorado, and now the Avs will shop him until they get the “right deal.”
So, now that it’s safe to assume there’s activity on the O’Reilly trade front, there’s two different angles to this rumor that need to be addressed.
First, could the Sabres use him? The answer to that question is a very clear yes.
O’Reilly is the type of player that doesn’t come around very often. Is he a superstar? No. Is he the type of player that wins you Stanley Cups? Yes. One need not look any further than last year’s Stanley Cup Champions to see what a guy like O’Reilly can do for your team.
The Los Angeles Kings had two players I would compare to O’Reilly in Mike Richards and Dustin Brown. Richards may have more offensive flair – now – than O’Reilly and Brown may be more of a banger, but they all play very similar games. They’ll wear you down defensively but have ample offensive talent to contribute on the other end.
Remember back to last trade deadline when Brown was said to be available. Every team in the league must have sent the Kings an offer because after a day or two, he was “off the table” and went on to lead the Kings with 20 points in the playoffs – which tied him with Anze Kopitar.
It doesn’t matter what style of hockey is being played – read: Lindy Ruff may not be around more much longer – guys like O’Reilly are essential to a team. He would bring the two-way ability the Sabres have lacked since 2007 when Chris Drury bolted in free agency. Is O’Reilly to Drury’s level yet? Absolutely not, but the kid is 22 and has plenty of time to become that and more.
So that leads into the second part that needs to be answered: What do the Sabres give up to land him?
The Avs are apparently looking for the “right deal,” which could mean anything. Greg Sherman, the Avs’ general manager, isn’t saying much about the situation, but one would have to assume Colorado would want a stud prospect and top defenseman or forward for O’Reilly, at least.
Looking at it in a short-term lens, Colorado is hurting big time on defense, especially after losing Erik Johnson indefinitely to a head injury earlier this week. Coupled with the injuries to Matt Hunwick and Ryan Wilson, what’s left is a beyond mediocre group with the likes of Jan Hejda and journeyman Greg Zanon. The offense hasn’t fared well either, with newly minted captain and Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie out for extended periods of time, Downie for likely the entire season with an ACL tear.
So who do the Sabres have to give up? Despite their poor play, they have plenty of defensive depth other teams, especially in the Western Conference, would love. Jordan Leopold would be a consideration, as would Andrej Sekera and TJ Brennan. Drew Stafford would also be a consideration for any team despite his struggles. Many that have played would not characterize Stafford’s issues this season as a result of him not playing well. Many would say after some early struggles the past two years he’s gripping his stick a little harder and trying to make things happen instead of just playing hockey. Stafford would make a great addition for many teams.
The other consideration here is that it will likely take a top tier prospect to pry O’Reilly out. The Avs will want someone that can step in now and produce and then someone who will be able to add to that production down the line.
Colorado’s blue chip defensive prospects, Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie, have not yet reached their potential as Elliott has struggled to adjust to the AHL game and Barrie hasn’t been able to stick on the NHL roster. Duncan Siemens is still in junior and has played well in his final year with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL, but may be a couple years away from contributing at the NHL level. In hindsight, the trade of Kevin Shattenkirk is coming back to haunt them in a big way.
So, in other words, the Avs could use some defensive prospects and the Sabres have a few. Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk would likely be selling points for the Avs, as would TJ Brennan. But the Sabres have some good prospects up front in Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons and Luke Adam that could be looked at.
To avoid getting caught in wild speculation any further, the cost would be high. Darcy Regier will have to determine what he wants out of this team to determine whether O’Reilly is worth the package that would be required. The Sabres need some sort of boost, so O’Reilly could be an excellent target but the price will be high.
Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18.