It is common knowledge that the Colorado Avalanche are currently at camp without their top scorer from last season. The absence of Ryan O'Reilly is dominating the headlines around the club, and for good reason.
The whole situation is strange and confusing. Why couldn't the Avalanche agree to terms with arguably their best player? The off-season signings of David Jones, four years at $4M a season, and Erik Johnson, four years at $3.75M a season, seemed to set up the signing of O'Reilly in the same contract ballpark. But as the off-season dragged on and the two sides far from a new contract, the tension seemed to rise. Then the lockout struck and eventually O'Reilly signed a two-year deal in Russia.
Surely the signing was a ploy to get more money out of the Avalanche and O'Reilly would return once the lockout ended. But the lockout is over and the Memorandum of Understanding has been signed and still no word on a new deal for the two sides. Fear has taken over whether or not the Avalanche will have O'Reilly back for their 2013 season. Trading the star Center seems to be out of the question, for now, but why?
There is no argument on what O'Reilly can bring to this team, or any NHL team for that matter. But is he crucial for the long-term success of the Colorado Avalanche. His stats clearly paint the picture of a dynamic two-way center who can score and play defense with the best in the game. But is he what the Avalanche need or would they be better off trading the young center for a defender?
The Avalanche already have a very offensively solid top 6 forward corp. Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Jamie McGinn, David Jones, P.A. Paranteau and Gabriel Landeskog can provide all the offense needed for the club. Does having another scoring, albeit solid defending, center make sense for this team? Or would they be better off rolling two scoring lines and two solid checking lines? O'Reilly could easily fill the third line role but would be for the most part wasted in such a role. A third line checking center is easy to come by. John Mitchell, recently added from the New York Rangers, is currently slated to be that third line center. Comparing Mitchell to O'Reilly is not the point, the case here is that the overall success of an NHL team doesn't come from 3 scoring lines, but rather two scoring lines and two checking lines. Just look at the 2001 Stanley Cup winning Colorado Avalanche club. The third and fourth line Centers were Stephan Yelle and Dan Hinote respectively. Solid players, but not the offensive centers needed for a scoring line. That club relied on both scoring and solid defense from the bottom two lines.
The Avalanche would no doubt be offered a dynamic player in return for the services of O'Reilly and would be smart to listen to those offers. Nobody will say the strength of the Avalanche is their defense. However, trading O'Reilly for a stud defender could push the Avalanche past their current state of mediocrity and into real contention in the Western Conference.