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What's O'Reilly Really Worth?

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As we approach the middle of August hockey news has ground to a halt. CBA negotiations are ongoing, Luongo is trade bait, the Flames suck and Phoenix has/doesn't have a potential buyer, we've seen this all before. In the middle of what has been a particularly slow offseason, Avs standout center Ryan O`Reilly remains unsigned heading into August. Mike Chambers addressed the issue a few weeks ago and again yesterday and Adrian Dater has assured fans that O'Reilly will be re-signed, but Radar's lingering free agency gets at a much larger question moving forward: Where do this teams three young centers fit?

Entering the 2012 NHL season, Avs fans had very clear expectations for their Big 3 centers. Paul Stastny was the 1A playmaker with near point-per-game potential. Matt Duchene would be the flashy 1B center scoring up to 30 goals and igniting the Power Play with his wheels. And of course, Ryan O'Reilly would be the solid 3rd line center; shutting down the other team's top line and chipping in the occasional point after the takeaway. Needless to say, 2012 didn't turn out like we planned. Paul Stastny underwhelmed, Matt Duchene took massive steps backwards raising questions about his long term viability as a 1st line center, and Ryan O'Reilly shocked us all; putting together a career year and leading the team in points as well as ice time among forwards. Heading into 2012, its difficult to place these three. Yes, Paul Stastny is still Paul Stastny and will be again, but Matt Duchene took what looks to be a sizeable pay cut on a short-term deal and all of a sudden he doesn't look like the flashy 70-80 point offensive savior we once thought he was. Add to that O'Reilly's career year and you have three centers vying for top line minutes and only 60 minutes (and 2-3 viable top 6 wingers) to give out nightly.

So, what is Ryan O'Reilly? He led the Avalanche in points last season (55) and filled the role of a top line center. Honestly, its a role he should probably never fill again. Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny both have higher offensive ceilings that O'Reilly and with few exceptions (Sup BOS and NASH?), a leading scorer with less than 60 points is not a recipe for playoff success. So what does that make the budding young center? A 2nd liner? A 3rd liner? A PK specialist? Or is he something bigger than that? As we saw in Pittsburgh with Crosby, Malkin and Staal, retaining three talented centers and balancing their ice time over a career is extremely difficult so at some point, one of Colorado's big three may have to go. Although O'Reilly has a lower offensive ceiling than Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, he brings defensive talent and leadership intangibles that could be essential to the team's success down the road. And while he has yet to receive a nomination, Ryan O'Reilly could become a 2-way 2nd line forward with enormous defensive upside and possibly, Selke potential.

According to NHL.COM

The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season.

So lets compare Ryan O'Reilly with some of the leagues recent Selke winners and finalists.

Player GP G Pts Tka GvA TkA/GvA Hits FO% Tm%
Ryan O'Reilly 81 18 55 101 34 + 67 62 52.8 31.3
Pavel Datsyuk 70 19 67 97 40 + 57 76 56.2 32.0
Patrice Bergeron 81 22 64 55 25 +30 73 59.3 34.4
Ryan Kesler 77 22 49 44 14 +30 108 53.6 29.8
David Backes 82 24 54 50 22 +28 226 48.6 29.2

As we've discussed many times at MHH, O'Reilly's Takeaways (101) and Takeaway/Giveaway Rate (+67) were tops in the NHL this season. While O'Reilly doesn't beat out the other recent Selke candidates in Hits, Faceoffs or Points, his numbers are respectable. As a forwards defensive game usually develops slower than their offensive game, it is safe to assume that the 21 year old, 3rd year center's numbers will continue to improve as he matures.

Taking a look at some slightly more advanced stats (with excellent quick explanations from Matchsticks and Gasoline here and here), O'Reilly continues to keep pace with recent Selke competitors.

Player Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QOC Off Zone Start % Off Zone Finish %
O'Reilly 12.4 (2nd on Team) .891 (2nd on Team) 50.0 50.1
Datsyuk 13.2 (1st on Team) 1.162 (4th on Team) 55.5 50.4
Bergeron 18.5 (1st on Team) .520 (6th on Team) 47.6 52.3
Kesler 11.2 (6th on Team) .581 (8th on Team) 48.0 49.1
Backes 5.6 (5th on Team) 1.158 (1st on Team) 46.0 52.4

O'Reilly faced higher quality competition than recent finalists Ryan Kesler and David Backes, and faced the 2nd toughest matchups of Avs forwards (behind linemate Gabriel Landeskog). Only David Backes has a higher Corsi relative to his teammates which may indicate that of these Selke finalists, O'Reilly and Backes benefit least from their fellow forwards' possession and defensive abilities.

The last major component of the Selke comes down to penalty killing. While Jay McClement burdened most of the PK load for Avs forwards in 2012, Ryan O'Reilly still had an impressive season shorthanded.

Player SH TOI SH TOI/G SH G SH Pts Team PPGA Team PK%
O'Rielly 94:47 (3rd on Team) 1:10 (4th on Team) 0 0 10 83.0%
Datsyuk 85:29 (6th on Team) 1:13 (7th on Team) 0 0 8 81.8%
Bergeron 146:42 (1st on Team) 1:48 (1st on Team) 2 3 17 83.5%
Kesler 155:11 (4th on Team) 2:00 (4th on Team 1 2 10 86.0%
Backes 147:21 (1st on Team) 1:47 (3rd on Team) 2 3 13 85.8%

O'Reilly ranks last among Selke candidates in Short Handed Time on Ice per Game, but only trails Pavel Datsyuk by 3 seconds a game. However, O'Reilly, 3rd on the Avalanche in PK minutes, carries a comparatively larger PK load than Kesler or Datsyuk. With Jay McClement's departure for Toronto, O'Reilly's shorthanded time on ice will likely grow as the Avs struggle to replace McClements valuable penalty killing.

So if Ryan O'Reilly really has Selke potential, we should ask ourselves the question thats likely plagued Greg Sherman since early April: What is Ryan O'Reilly really worth?

Datsyuk: 7 Years $6.7M AAV

Bergeron: 3 Years $5M AAV

Kesler: 6 Years $5M AAV

Backes: 5 Years $4.5 AAV

Duchene: 2 Years $3.5 AAV

Obviously O'Reilly hasn't earned a contract to match the likes of Kesler, Bergeron or Datsyuk. He's just not as naturally talented as those former Selke candidates and his game isn't nearly as developed. However, if O'Reilly can continue to post 50-60 point seasons like he did in 2012, while maintaining his strong defensive play, David Backes $4.5M deal wont be much of a reach. O'Reilly's teammates make this deal a bit more complicated, however. He outscored and outplayed David Jones' $4M contract 81 times this season and while O'Reilly could likely make a case for between $3.5-$4M AAV it may be difficult for management to pay O'Reilly more than his fellow 2009 draftee, Matt Duchene. In the low risk, cost avoidance world of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, O'Reilly will likely receive a 1-3 year deal and a chance to prove whether or not his offensive game was for real.

But doesn't it feel like O'Reilly should get more than that?

Sure. O'Reilly is not a Selke calibre 2-way forward as of yet, but statistically he can hang with the best defensive forwards in the league. He brings a unique skill set and is arguably the most well rounded forward on the Avalanche's young roster and boasting one of the most dependable motors the team has seen in years. He's a guy who shows up every night and is as tenacious without the puck as he is driving it to the net. He's been an instant chemistry fixer for almost any ill-fit player on the roster and has brought a fresh, youthful enthusiasm to the Avs practice facility. So while Stasnty and Duchene may deserve the bigger bucks and the longer deals, building a team takes more than talent. It takes glue. And Ryan O'Reilly is the glue this team needs. It's likely that the Avs will lose one of their top 3 centers in the next few years and trading Ryan O'Reilly is probably the team's easiest way clearing space at center while adding needed scoring at wing. Unfortunately for Greg Sherman and the Colorado Avalanche, the easy trade here may not be the right one.

On a more personal note. I got my first Colorado Avalanche jersey at the age of five. The Avs were in the heat of their first NHL season and my parents bought me a kids sized #19 sweater. I bought my next jersey in the 2001-2002 season, a burgundy third jersey, #19 once again sewn across my back. A few years later Joe Sakic got some welcome company, a blue Peter Forsberg Nordiques sweater. But, in the 8 or so years that followed, nothing. Don't get me wrong, I was tempted by guys like Chris Drury, Adam Deadmarsh, Marek Svatos, Paul Stastny, John-Michael Liles, and Matt Duchene, but when it comes right down to it, I never felt attached to a player the way I had with #19 and #21. That was, until last week.

With his imminent jersey change to #90, Ryan O'Reilly's #37 sweater was 70% off at the Altitude Authentics shop. Lets be real, I'm a college student in a state of "perpetual budgeting," so yes, the bargain price swayed me, but buying Radar's jersey was more than that. To me, Ryan O'Reilly is an absolutely integral piece of this team, and while I don't think he will ever lead the Avs in points again (nor should he), he does have the kind of compete and character that reminds me of Dustin Brown, David Backes, and Ryan Callahan. On a team that has been so complacent in the last 5 years O'Reilly sticks out for one reason, losing is absolutely unacceptable to him. O'Reilly is my frontrunner for the Avalanche Captaincy after Hejduk and while he may not always do it on the scoreboard, he is the kind of player who can win a playoff series, the kind of player who can unite a fan base and a locker room and he is the kind of player who's jersey I am proud to wear. So yes I'll leave the beautiful Fleur de Lis and the Burgundy third at home this training camp not because I love the Reebok Uniprons, but because I'm proud to wear O'Reilly's sweater every time he steps on the ice.