Let’s say you had a 24-year old center. And let’s say that center had put up three 55+ point seasons in the past four, and in the fourth season he didn’t get to play half of it because you wouldn’t pay him. And let’s say other than that one season, this center missed only 12 games in five seasons. Would you first shift that center to wing? Would you do everything you could to not pay him? And then would you trade him for a collection of hopefuls and spare parts? If you answered yes to all of this, you’re ready to run the Colorado Avalanche.
While the Avs will claim that ROR was never going to be anything more than a third center for them, who willingly gives up on center-depth like this? You’d have to be insane. And luckily for the Sabres, the Avs are completely fucking nuts.
Things started to go sour for the Avs and O’Reilly before the lockout season, when he actually wanted to be paid like a young player coming off a 55-point season on the last year of his entry-deal. But the Avs were holding the line, and this was before they’d drafted Nathan MacKinnon, mind you. O’Reilly played in Russia for half ot the shortened season, finally coming back when the Flames offered him an offer sheet for two years at $10 million total, and the Avs matched it. But the tone was set. Two years later, after O’Reilly piled up 64 points as Matt Duchene’s winger, the Avs and O’Reilly had to go to salary arbitration to hash out their differences. You knew this wasn’t going to last.
The Sabres couldn’t wait to pick him up, and extended him for six more years after this one as soon as they did. At first the cap hit of $7.5 million sounded a bit high. It doesn’t now. O’Reilly leads the Sabres in scoring,
averaging nearly a point per game and zeroing in on career highs in points and goals. O’Reilly has been one of the best possession players for the Sabres, all the while taking on the other teams’ top lines and getting the worst zone-starts of any of the Sabres centers. All of it has built a pretty nice shelter for stud Jack Eichel to have softer landings in his rookie year. Considering O’Reilly’s age, he’s only signed until he’s 32, which would be just the start of his decline. With him and Eichel, the Sabres could soon have one of the best sets of top two centers in the East. The division they’re in certainly isn’t packed with those.
Ignoring the fact that the Avs serve paint chips in their office cafeteria, there is something askew about teams having to give up good young players because they fear they can’t pay them all before they’ve even had a chance to open a championship window. The Avs don’t think they can afford all of O’Reilly, Duchene, Landeskog, and MacKinnon. The Oilers fear the same with their collection. The Predators just gave up Seth Jones partly because they didn’t think they could afford him with all of their other d-men. None of these teams have won a playoff round yet. If the system, with the draft and salary cap, was to distribute talent and give everyone a chance, why aren’t these teams even getting a chance before they have to make changes? You basically get two or three years to make it all work, like the Hawks did. That seems a tad harsh.
But not for the Avalanche. Fuck them.