Yes, you are already tired of reading about the Ryan O'Reilly saga. I know that. The holdout, the trade rumors, the negotiation rumors, the offer sheet and immediate matching, finally followed by the ridiculous waiver blowup yesterday that probably wasn't anything of the sort (at the end of the day, it's the NHL that looks stupid here, not Jay Feaster or the Avalanche). The dust has finally settled and Ryan O'Reilly is practicing with the team, wearing his new #90. So we are all ready to move on. But first, I'd like to take a crack at how the signing will affect, well, everything.
The Avalanche on the ice
The Avalanche, of course, immediately get better. O'Reilly was the team's leading scorer last year and is a great defensive player as well, so he should be able to improve a team ranked 20th in scoring and 21st in goals allowed. All season long, Joe Sacco has relied heavily on two centerman - Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny - to take the draws, so O'Reilly will be a welcome addition here and seeing Mark Olver (40%) and Chuck Kobasew (30%) in the circle should be largely a distant memory. O'Reilly will also jump into the PK mix as well. The most-used forwards to date on the PK are Stastny, Duchene, David Jones, Chuck Kobasew and Cody McLeod. With the return of O'Reilly and Gabe Landeskog, the Avalanche should be better on the kill (currently 22nd overall). Similarly, Sacco will have more options on the PP with O'Reilly and Landy back in the lineup, which means relying less on guys like John Mitchell and David Jones (who has just 7 power play points this season and last). The Avalanche, when healthy, can roll three really good lines now. Remember, the Avs have gotten pretty good numbers from a 3rd line so far and no matter who plays there now, the O'Reilly signing should have a trickle-down effect to make this line even better.
But it also creates a bit of a numbers crunch on the lower lines of the team. Right now there are more or less 8 locks for the top 3 lines - Duchene, Stastny, O'Reilly, Landeskog, McGinn, Parenteau, Hejduk and Jones. That leaves 4 playing spots for 6 hard-working guys - Chuck Kobasew, Cody McLeod, John Mitchell, Patrick Bordeleau, Aaron Palushaj and Mark Olver. Mitchell and McLeod will still play, but their 3rd line minutes will become 4th line minutes. Two of the remaining four - Kobasew, Paulushaj, Olver and Bordeleau will be sitting...or moving on. With Ryan Wilson and Erik Johnson returning soon, the Avalanche will likely return Stefan Elliott to Lake Erie, but, barring another injury, one of the forwards will need to go. That could be very bad news for Mark Olver, who is the only one of the bunch exempt from waivers (for 10 more games), and arguably the least effective of the forwards this year.
The Avalanche finances
The O'Reilly offer sheet included a hefty $2.5 million fully-payable signing bonus, which means the Avs ended up shelling out more cash for O'Reilly than they bargained for. And O'Reilly gets a huge win, earning $2.8 million for the remaining 29 games, plus whatever he earned to brave the frozen Russian winter in the KHL. But we fans don't really care about the checks that the Kroenkes have to write; we want to know about the affect on the salary cap. To that end, not much. The Avs are $17 million under the cap this year and roughly $7 million next year with almost all of their primary players under contract already. No cap issues at all for this year or next year.
However, in terms of actual payroll, the Avs are going to be at nearly $59 million and THAT could be huge. It's hard to find solid numbers, but I believe the Avalanche have been under $50 million in payroll every year since the 2004 lockout and I don't think that's by accident. The Avs are over that number this season, but won't actually come close to that because of the lockout (thanks, Gary!). So, as it stands right now the Avs are next year scheduled to pay out about $10 million more than they have in years. This is a very interesting situation to watch. Will the Kroenkes step up to keep this team together, or will Greg Sherman be forced to shed some salary to get back down to a more palatable payroll number. I really, really, really, really want to believe that it's the former. But I can't help but think it's going to be the latter, in which case, I hope we get something better than Tyler Bozak for Stastny. *sigh*.
The real financial impact of this deal kicks in two summers from now. O'Reilly will be a restricted free agent again, still two more years from the big bucks of unrestricted free agency (ha!). Because of the poison pill in the Flames' offer sheet, the minimum tender to qualify O'Reilly in the summer of 2014 will be $6.5 million. The Avalanche can take O'Reilly to arbitration instead, but the very best they can hope for there is $5.5 million. I don't think that's going to be an option. If he's bad enough to lose so badly at arbitration that he gets the maximum pay cut (15%), he's probably not worth tendering in the first place. The Avs can trade him too (at the deadline next year, if that's after the 1-year moratorium on trading offer sheet players or in the summer of 2014) but I don't believe that's in the cards either. His trade value went down on Thursday, as his rumored $5 million demands became an actual $5 million contract that's structured in a way that makes him tough to re-sign. He would have to excel over the next calendar year to become a viable trade candidate, but if he does that, there's no impetus for the Avalanche to trade him (unless they are going to be pissy pants about the whole thing).
In addition to the negotiations for O'Reilly, 2014 will also be the year that the contracts of other key RFAs expire - Landeskog, Duchene, Varlamov, McGinn and Tyson Barrie (hopefully he's a key RFA by then). Additionally, Paul Stastny and Steve Downie are scheduled to be UFAs that summer. The Avalanche are active traders and it is very likely that this list will somehow change between now and then, but right now 2014 is looking like a potential nail-biter.
As seen in the previous paragraph, several big name players will be negotiating new deals a little over a year from now. Landeskog and Duchene now have a really nice barometer for their next deals. Previously, we looked at John Tavares' $5.5 million as a high-end mark for Duchene...but with the way he's playing and the $5 million deal for O'Reilly, that number could get bigger in a hurry. And at the pace he's going, Landeskog isn't going to be any cheaper. O'Reilly is getting paid now, but it will help line his teammates' pockets down the road.
I am very interested to watch how Duchene responds. One of the rumored sticking points in the negotiation this summer - one I put little stock in, by the way - was that O'Reilly was miffed that the captaincy went to Gabe Landeskog. Last fall, I wondered how the Landescaptain move would affect Duchene and I still wonder. Landeskog is the face of the franchise and O'Reilly has gathered all the attention..all while Matt Duchene has simply gone out this year and been the best player the Avalanche have had on the ice since Joe Sakic hung up his skates. If that doesn't nag at Duchene even a little bit, then he is a hell of a lot better person than I am. We won't really know how this will play out in the locker room, especially since Kyle Quincey is no longer around, but the protracted hold out will have some impact off the ice. Perhaps it divides the room, perhaps it brings everyone together or perhaps the impact is minor. We'll never know, probably, but that won't stop us from talking about it.
Finally, this could have a big impact on the player himself. A year ago, O'Reilly was one of the most popular players on the team, and deservedly so. From his notorious work ethic to all the intangibles on the ice, Radar has been a fan favorite. That's taken a significant hit. Right or wrong, fans take these holdouts personally. All of the stuff that's been bandied around - his "outrageous" contract demands, the character stuff, the captain rumors - will be held against him, as will the fact that he signed with the CALGARY FUCKING FLAMES.
That will all be forgotten the moment he scores his first goal or sets up a teammate for a game winner, but that won't be the end of the story. O'Reilly wanted to be paid like a franchise player and he ultimately got it by using Jay Feaster. But if he doesn't actually play like one? Look out. Hell hath no fury like a fan discussing an overpaid player (ask Paul Stastny or David Jones). The expectations will be super high now - higher, even, than his 55-point career year last year. If Radar can't improve on those numbers then we will see just how much of a price tag most fans have on hard work and character (spoiler alert: it's a lot lower than $5 million). The pressure is going to be on O'Reilly to not only make his current contract seem worth it, but to justify the raise in the next one that he set himself with.
For better or for worse, this is going to be a significant turn of events in the ongoing history of the Colorado Avalanche. Like the death of Don Corleone or Bilbo Baggins finding the ring, this signing is a harbinger of unknown things to come. There will be any number of short-term and long-term ramifications - good and bad - that may take years to unfold. But make no mistake, change is in the air. Winter is coming.