Why the Colorado Avalanche Had to Sign Ryan O’Reilly

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, almost two months after the NHL lockout ended, Colorado Avalanche fans are able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Tonight in Denver at 7:19 pm, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman announced that they had matched the Calgary Flames‘ offer sheet for Ryan O’Reilly, the fourth-year Avalanche center. The level of emotion and excitement in the Pepsi Center as the news was propagated through Twitter and friends and family was absolutely palpable, and a stark contrast to the shock, fear and anger felt earlier in the day.

After an awkward email sent to Adrian Dater of the Denver Post by O’Reilly’s father, followed by an even more bizarre response by O’Reilly himself, most Avalanche fans had been happily minding their business with the O’Reilly situation. It was generally assumed by many fans that the Avalanche would try and continue to move him until the trade deadline or let him sit and wait it out.

However, at approximately 4:15 pm MST, Flames’ GM Jay Feaster announced that they had signed O’Reilly to a two-year, $10 million offer sheet. Opinion among fans ranged from acceptance that the whole fiasco would be over in a maximum of seven days, to outrage that the Avalanche were going to lose one of their star players for two draft picks.

No matter what the resolution was going to be, the prevalent feeling was that we would lose O’Reilly because the Avalanche and Kroenke ownership will not invest money in the club.

Ever since the first NHL Lockout in 2004, there has been a growing feeling amongst fans that the Kroenkes have welcomed a salary cap, because it provides a solid excuse for not spending on the team. There have been complaints that the Jumbotron is outdated, the seats were uncomfortable, and no quality players have been signed by the team.

Unfortunately for these fans, that is simply not the truth. The Kroenkes and Avalanche organization, since 2008, have signed such quality (and expensive) players as Ryan Smyth for $7.25 million, Brett Clark for $3.5 million, Scott Hannan for $4.5 million, and Jan Hejda for $3.25 million – just to name a few.

As they have said all along, they need to be mindful of a large number of contracts coming up for renewal all at once, as in 2015, when over half the current roster will be needing a new contract, including Semyon Varlamov, Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog, and Paul Stastny.

The jumbotron is scheduled for an upgrade this summer, the seats in the Pepsi Center are being replaced, but none of that would have mattered if the Avalanche had allowed the Flames to effectively steal O’Reilly.

In the eyes of critical fans, when a player who was your leading scorer last year becomes a holdout, it can only mean that the organization isn’t willing to pay him “what he deserves.”

The crux of the disagreement between the Avalanche and O’Reilly was just exactly what he deserved. Did O’Reilly deserve a contract based upon his last year only, or based on the average of the three years he was with the team? With the offer sheet, those questions were eliminated, and all that mattered was what the organization was going to do.

Fortunately, they had no real choice. To lose a star player for draft picks would have seemed foolhardy and made negotiating in future situations almost impossible. They don’t have to worry about this contract setting a precedent, because the value was determined by the Flames.

The Avalanche desperately need some defensive help, and O’Reilly was just as good on defense as he was on offense. He is loved by the fans, and there doesn’t appear to be a player who works more diligently than he does.

How history, the Avalanche, and its fans will look back on this transaction is entirely up to O’Reilly. If he performs as everybody knows he can, the Avalanche will never wonder if the only decision they could make was the right decision after all.

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