Ryan O’Reilly’s contract dispute with the Colorado Avalanche came to an end yesterday when the Calgary Flames signed the restricted free agent to a two-year, 10-million dollar offer sheet. The Avalanche could have either matched the Flames’ offer, or let him go and receive first- and third-round draft picks this summer from the Flames as compensation. The Avs promptly matched the offer sheet; ultimately deciding that paying the 22-year-old centre much more than they wanted to for two seasons was a better alternative to the picks.
It seemed like a pretty shrewd move on the part of Flames’ general manager Jay Feaster at the time. The deal was creatively-structured to give the Avalanche as much headaches as possible if they decided to match, and still be under the five-million dollar per season limit so they would have only given up the two picks as compensation had Colorado chosen not to match. Here are the compensation figures outlined last summer by James Mirtle (the figures remained unchanged in the new CBA):
$1,110,249 or below – No Compensation
Over $1,110,249 to $1,682,194 – 3rd round pick
Over $1,682,194 to $3,364,391 – 2nd round pick
Over $3,364,391 to $5,046,585 – 1st round pick, 3rd
Over $5,046,585 to $6,728,781 – 1st round pick, 2nd, 3rd
Over $6,728,781 To $8,410,976 – Two 1st Round Picks, 2nd, 3rd
Over $8,410,976 – Four 1st Round Picks
Although the Avs ended up paying a ton of money for O’Reilly, it came as no surprise that they chose to match the offer. O’Reilly has blossomed into a strong, two-way force down the middle, leading the Avs in scoring last year with 55 points. Draglikepull of Pension Plan Puppets made a compelling case for why the Maple Leafs should have signed O’Reilly to an offer sheet a long time ago. As you can see from the article, O’Reilly is in some very good company for players who have scored at around a 0.68 point-per-game pace in their age 20 season. Factor in his strong defensive stats, and there’s good reason to believe O’Reilly could have become the Leafs’ number one centre for years to come.
Unfortunately, that ship has sailed for the Maple Leafs with the Flames forcing the issue, but news came around today that suggested there was good reason why most GM’s were hesitant to try and pry O’Reilly away. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported that O’Reilly would have had to clear waivers if the Avalanche let him walk, because he played two games in the KHL after the NHL lockout had ended. That would mean every team situated below the Flames in the standings would have had an opportunity to snatch O’Reilly up, and the Flames would have spent first- and third-round picks and received nothing in return. Because O’Reilly is still on the Avalanche’s restricted free agent list, he does not need to clear waivers to suit up for the Avs mid-season.
The most bizarre part of the story is that, according to one of Johnston’s sources, the NHL didn’t even know about the two games O’Reilly took the ice for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL after the lockout had ended. Evidently, Feaster didn’t know about them either. In fact, O’Reilly’s agent Pat Morris spoke to Bryan Hayes and Jamie McLennan on TSN 1050 today (about halfway down the page on the right side under “Must Listen”) and said he wasn’t aware of the potential waivers situation either. It seems like almost everybody (including yours truly) was fooled by this little-known caveat of the CBA, and it could have easily ended in disaster for the Flames, and O’Reilly could have found himself a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets by next week.
It will be interesting to see where things go from here. Avalanche management are obviously not thrilled with how this situation played out, and it could create some weird locker room dynamics with Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog both making much less per season than O’Reilly. It’s hard to imagine the Avalanche and O’Reilly will be able find common ground on a long-term deal after this debacle, and it might make more sense for the Avs to cut ties and try to get what they can back for him in a trade. If they do, I sincerely hope Maple Leaf GM Dave Nonis will be among those who make a call.