There's been a lot of talk recently about who should be on the trading block if the Avalanche are not in the playoff picture come the deadline. One of the names that keeps coming up is Shane O'Brien. He's having a career year, so the selling would be high. He has only a single-year contract, so the commitment would be low. And he's the kind of player a team pushing for the Cup would want to have around: tough, positive, dedicated.
But all the reasons that make him a perfect candidate for a trade deadline move aren't good enough to trump the reasons he should stay.
For the past few years, fans of the Avalanche have lamented that toughness and grit were lacking on the blueline. When Adam Foote was out of the line up due to injuries, those things just didn't exist on the ice. The team needed a guy who was vocal, protective, aggressive. They got that in O'Brien, but they got a whole lot more, too. From the beginning of the year, it was absolutely evident that he was a leader as well. He brought stability to a young team, as well as an infectious positive energy. When it comes to taking a team through an erratic season born from youth and inexperience, those are the kinds of guys you need around.
Mike Chambers recently wrote a story about O'Brien, illustrating just how valuable he is to the team. Coach Sacco spoke of those little things he does:
"From a coach's standpoint, (the on-ice leadership he brings is) more important, but if you talk about intangibles, you can talk about O.B.," Sacco said. "He brings a lot of positive energy, both on the ice and off the ice. He's certainly a character."
His teammates call him Beauty. If you've spent any time following the Twitter accounts of hockey players, you've seen the hashtag #Beauty often. According to Kyle Quincey, O'Brien is the "definition of a beauty," the kind of player the Avs "were in desperate need of."
So what is a beauty? Beauties are the toughest guys in hockey on the ice, and the nicest, most affable ones off it. They're the ones the players love because of how they positively affect the team's mentality and performance.
I don't think anyone could put it more plainly than Galiardi did:
"Those few games when he was hurt, I said we were missing something. And he was it. I actually call him Beauty, like a lot of the guys. That just shows how great of a guy he is. He always keeps it loose, but at the same time he's such a great leader."
It's hard enough to lose a teammate to trades. Both Galiardi and David van der Gulik talked about what it meant to say goodbye to Brandon Yip, who was placed on waivers and picked up by the Nashville Predators. However, Yip wasn't producing on the ice. He certainly didn't have the locker room presence O'Brien has. If losing Yip was hard, imagine what trading O'Brien would do to a team just starting to grow its roots.
There are some that think guys like O'Brien are a dime a dozen. I suppose that if you only considered his stats, that would be the case. But games aren't won by statistics alone. The brutal struggle a team must endure to win those 16 games on the way to the Cup could never be endured if it wasn't for the O'Briens of the league. All the skill in the world won't get you a day with Lord Stanley's Cup if you don't have the character to go with it. Shane O'Brien brings that character. The Avalanche needs that character. It's a fit that is, in reality, hard to find, especially when it's with a guy who's only 28 years old.