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Weekly Watercooler: Pigs Fly, O'Reilly & Avs Complete Contract

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Cole and AJ chat about the Ryan O'Reilly Saga's temporary resolution and a few other tidbits from around the league.

The face of a man who just got paaaaaaid and another who is about to.
The face of a man who just got paaaaaaid and another who is about to.
Doug Pensinger

Cole and I sat down Wednesday afternoon to discuss the big events that unfolded in Avalanche country and around the NHL in the past week. Hopefully this is the last time I'm forced to type "Ryan O'Reilly" for a few weeks.

So AJ. Obviously there was a pretty big Avalanche player signed today after a lengthy period of negotiations. What do you think of Andre Benoits deal with the Sabres?

AJ: It's interesting. Somehow the guy scored 28 points as a 3rd pairing guy and took a pay cut from 900K to 800K. For a team looking for a bounce back from Myers (any year now, Tyler...) that also added Gorges and Meszaros, the Sabres seem intent on keeping their plethora of talented youngsters buried on their depth chart. Neuvirth and Enroth are going to have a blast!

Cole: Wait.... 800K? I hadn't even looked at the numbers yet. I'm shocked he couldn't get more than that after a pretty decent season in Colorado. For the price of Nate Guenin we could have extended Andre Benoit? Come on now... I actually don't think the Sabres are going to be as bad as many project. Adding guys like Gorges, Moulson, Stewart, Neuvirth, and Benoit isn't going to get them into the playoffs, but it's probably going to give teams like Calgary and Ottawa an advantage when it comes to Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Strange stuff but I guess that's how the cap floor is supposed to work.

AJ: Ahhh come on. Ottawa? I know the East is bad but that's silly. There's too much talent in Ottawa for them to be seriously in the McDavid/Eichel conversation. Maybe. I dunno. Anyway. I don't think bringing Benoit back would've been bad at all, especially considering we spent that 800K several times over on guys in Europe. He is a lefty, though, and that doesn't necessarily push Nate Guenin out of the lineup so at least the team had its priorities straight when it signed several righty defenders.

Cole: *thumbs up  Well. That's all we've got for today right AJ?

Did anything else happen that was noteworthy? Some cat with a turbo calculator and a sketchy past got hired by Toronto yesterday.

Cole: I forgot about that! Quite an odd couple in Toronto yesterday. Pocket protectors and heavy artillery hunting equipment. I actually think that the David Booth signing was a pretty savvy move by the Leafs (for once). At $1.1M he's a low risk investment (unlike their last David signing) and I think he's got plenty of good hockey left in him. We'll see what happens, but I'd put money on David Booth being a more cost effective player for them than David Clarkson.

As for their new math division (The Corsi Crusaders? +/- Patrol? The Fenwick Fun Bunch?)... anyway, those guys can punch all the numbers they want into their calculator watches, but as long as Randy Carlyle is at the helm in the locker room the Leafs will stay a hot mess.

AJ: But...Cole...he's won a Stanley Cup before. Isn't that the gold standard?

David Booth was a great signing for them in my eyes. I loved the idea of the Avs bringing him into the fold if he still couldn't find a job but it turns out they're saving contract #50 for someone else. I think Booth, with little to no expectations and a chance to prove his value now that he's finally healthy for the first time in two years, will produce in a limited role for Toronto. He's a quality guy who should quietly contribute and convince Toronto to give him a 5 year extension next summer. That'll be fun.

As for their front office hiring, I'm pretty indifferent about it. The real story is that advanced stats crowd getting one of "their guys" in a big-time FO role in the NHL. They're being assholes (of course) about it because now they want to demand validation from sports writers instead of just enjoying this "victory" but that's to be expected. When you're better than everyone and have to constantly show it, there is no high road to take. Hopefully things work out well for Toronto and their shiny new toy.

Hey speaking of contract #50.... There are some rumors circulating the twittersphere this week that the Avalanche are a front runner for Kevin Hayes this offseason. Thoughts?

AJ: I think it's a great potential move. I'm excited by all of it, really. He's not a great skater and coming from the slower college game means the transition will be a bit more severe but he's an older guy so we aren't dealing with ANOTHER teenager here. He's got the acumen of being a 1st round pick in 2010, which always sounds sexy when trying to sell an August prospect signing to the fans. A Hobey Baker finalist and linemate of star Flames prospect and Hokey Baker winning Johnny Gaudreau, Hayes has all the things you like to see. Size, skill, production, history of winning, no major red flags, and in perfect Avs tradition, he's the better of the hockey playing siblings.

Were we to sign him, he would instantly become one of our top 5 prospects and a threat to make the team right out of training camp. I think he'd be well served to play a year in LEM, first, but if he grows up in the NHL, well, we know that route pretty well at this point.

Cole: I think it's an absolute slam dunk if the Avalanche can sell him on the team and vision. If he's everything he's cracked up to be you could be looking at an eventual replacement for some of the Avalanche's aging wingers (Tanguay and Iginla). Now it does come with one massive caveat in my mind. The Avalanche absolutely have to rid themselves of one of Cody McLeod or Patrick Bordeleau. Take a look at the Kings cup winning bottom six forwards:
King - Stoll - Williams
Clifford - Richards - Lewis
Now, like the Kings 3rd line, the Avs 3rd line is in really good shape for next year with
McGinn - Mitchell - Briere
Projected on a line together. Love it, you have guys who can move up and down the lineup and play more physical or gritty depending on the situation. The Avs 4th line though is projected at something like
McLeod/Bordeleau - Winchester/Cliche - Talbot
Ok... I mean that's a very old school physical group, which Roy seems to like. I understand the old school hockey desire to put "toughness" into the lineup, but Patrick Roy and the rest of the NHL really need to learn that putting better possession players on that line is going to benefit them more than 2 minutes of Patrick Bordeleau being big and scaring people with the nuclear threat of fighting.

Clearing out some of those tough guy contracts and signing someone like Hayes gives the Avalanche the option of running a 4th that looks like this:
Hayes - Hishon - Talbot
Hayes/Hishon - Winchester - Talbot
That looks more like what the Kings hoisted the cup with, it looks like a line that can get trapped out on the ice and not get dominated by other team's forwards.

AJ: If you're looking for a guy with good possession skills, Peter Mueller is still out there for the signing. Snicker. Snicker. I love the idea of moving on from the McLeod-Bordy "bring me your women" tough guy bullshit. This is the modern day NHL. Stop it. When you're looking at your potential 4th lines comprised of Hayes/Hishon/Talbot/Winchester, your big positive in possession is they aren't just simply looking to chip the puck out but actually carry it out. That's a huge difference in how you transition from defense to offense and I'd be all for it.

Realistically, I don't see the team moving on from the loyal soldier Triumvirate of Ugh in Bordy/Cliche/McLeod. Not this year, anyway. Next year I hope the talent is knocking loudly enough at the door to move on but this is still the team that gave Nate Guenin two more years after 3 months of not terrible play. No, this horse isn't nearly dead enough for my liking, Cole.

Cole: It's not dead yet, but we're on our way. I think the Avs front office learned a lesson when it comes to those guys. Adding players like Winchester and Redmond is depth, sure, but they are also immediate upgrades over Cliche and Guenin. Looks to me like a front office that wants those guys back in the "healthy scratch" position instead of the #12 and #6 position respectively. I've been saying this for a while, but I do believe that Cody McLeod will be traded before his contract ends. Beyond that it's up to the coaching staff to learn from last year and USE THEIR CALL UPS. Do you think the Avalanche would have done better in games 5-7 if Joey Hishon had played more than Cliche, Malone, and Bordeleau? I do. Do you think they would have felt more comfortable playing him if he'd played meaningful minutes with the Avs during the season when injuries came up? I sure do.

AJ: It's tough for Joey Hishon to get minutes during the regular season when Ryan Wilson is taking his spot, man.

There's a guy worth taking a paragraph on. When the Avs trim their roster in camp this year they will actually have to think a little bit about their salary cap. What's that mean for Ryan Wilson and his $2.25M cap hit?

AJ: Too early to tell on all of this. It's easy for us to sit here and say "sure doesn't look good!" because that's easy cash to trim off the books but we're sending a handful of these guys down anyway so the cap situation will sort itself out no matter what we do. If Bigras breaks camp with the team (save this for later LOL), that's not one of the 10 guys currently listed on our NHL roster. Say we keep 7 guys, regardless of who they are, that means 3 of those cats are off the cap and we're in the clear.

Cole: See folks? EZPZ don't worry too much about that cap. Alright A.J. I think it's that time.

But for real.... AJ IT'S TIME TO TALK ABOUT RYAN O'BYRNE.

AJ: Man, I really thought after his KHL team folded he would find an AHL job or something but that Swiss deal is awesome for him. Happy for the guy. Getting paid good money and living it up in Europe is not the worst alternative when you're not good enough to play with the big boys.

Cole: No kidding although.... Could he really be worse than Nate Guenin? I wonder sometimes how many O'Byrne-type guys find themselves locked out of the NHL completely when they could likely outplay some guys in the league. (insert plea to sign Peter Mueller and make AJ's skin crawl here).

AJ: Hey, I like Peter Mueller and I wish him all the success in the world. My point of contention is Mueller is being billed as a "positive possession guy" despite being a top 6 guy only but he doesn't play any defense and isn't physical at all. Somehow all of that translates into a guy with "positive possession skills" and it drives me crazy. Watch the guy play and tell me that shit.

Cole: Speaking of which... I miss Marek Svatos

AJ: I miss 30-goal Marek Svatos, probably much in the same way Sharks fans miss 50-goal Jonathan Cheechoo.

Cole: Or 26 goal Svatos, or even the shell of the Svats Machine that scored this beauty.

Cole: Alright AJ. I've got a Destiny Beta to get back to, it's time to talk about Ryan O'Reilly.

AJ: :(

Ryan O'Reilly and the Avs came to an agreement mere miunutes before walking into the arbitration hearing. Final tally: 2 years, $12M. 1st year salary $5.8M, 2nd $6.2. Go.

Cole: It's no secret that I'm a huge Adrian Dater critic but I actually think he summed this up really well in his recent blog here.

This isn't the long term deal that fans wanted but man, oh man is it better than going through with the arbitration. That said, I'm far more optimistic about the possibility of seeing Ryan O'Reilly in an Avalanche jersey beyond 2016 today than I was yesterday. This is, in my mind, the bridge deal that Ryan O'Reilly dodged via Feaster 2 years ago. That time the Avalanche wanted him to prove his worth on neutral terms so they could work towards something long term, instead the two embittered themselves on either side of two irrelevant starting points ($5M AAV and $6.5QO). Now we're back on an even playing field, the Avalanche have shown O'Reilly that they value him enough to make him the HIGHEST PAID PLAYER ON THE TEAM and Ryan has shown a willingness to negotiate down from his ludicrous arbitration figure of $6.75M. That's a really good start for two sides which haven't found a middle ground in 3 years now.

Now things are back in the Avs court and they'll have a big decision to make next summer. If Ryan has another stellar season this year then I think it's time to pay the man. His next cap hit might exceed Duchene's but if it grows at a similar rate I don't see it being a problem within the Salary Structure. If O'Reilly proves that his 3rd and 5th seasons are more representative of his play than his 1st and 2nd then your top priority is doing everything in your power to negotiate a nice long contract extension. The time and good will that this "bridge" buys the Avalanche in that regard is huge.

You have to remember that Paul Stastny turned his back on the team that raised him in favor of the #1/#12 most dangerous city in America and no goalie (dummy). This contract, though it could be the first step in repairing the icy relationship between Colorado and Ryan O'Reilly, could also be the bridge that takes him right to a UFA payday and bidding war. The Avalanche cannot afford to lose him the way they lost Paul Stastny. That means if he is unsigned at the beginning of the 2015-2016 NHL season, he better be putting on a new jersey before training camp, with some quality assets coming back to the Avalanche.

I think when it comes down to it, there was no way that the Avalanche and O'Reilly were going to find a long term contract this time around. The distance between the two was too large, and the risk in committing that kind of money to a guy that is still relatively unproven was too big. The Avalanche arb'ed O'Reilly to keep the cost down and in the end it worked. They dodged an ugly court battle with O'Reilly and got an extra year for the trouble. It's not a long term deal, but it's hard to look at this as anything but a success (for now).

But thats not all... The best part of this deal (to me) is that it means we as fans will get to watch a line containing Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Duchene, and Jarome Iginla for at least the majority of the 2014-2015 season.  That's a line that I think is capable of taking over games and making opposing teams absolutely miserable.  Should be a blast to watch.

AJ: Lol oh.

Cole: I wax poetic on Ryan O'Reilly for that long and all I get is "Lol oh." Whatever AJ. Calvin de Haan sucks.

AJ: At least you didn't pull the Adam Larsson card. Fucking New Jersey. Anyway.

AJ: I'm impressed and thrilled that everyone came out a winner today. Yesterday it seemed like an impossible resolution but here we sit. Logic prevailed and we're all happy. The Avs managed to talk a major award winner and their leading goal scorer into taking a pay cut...that will ultimately make him more money than his last contract. The team is happy, the player is rich, and the fans get to continue cheering on a favorite player of theirs, even if it is with a lot more side eye than in previous years.

Whether the Avs trade him or not is discussion that will linger for the next 18-20 months. I'm not interested in that noise right now. I'm enjoying this all-around victory because they so rarely happen in sports. It's a temporary feel-good story and I'm going to enjoy feeling good about it. Now attention turns to Tyson Barrie and then finally, mercifully, development camp.

On a final note, I've been saying all spring/summer "deadlines spur action". Holy shit did this ring true today. Everyone should always keep this in mind moving forward.

Cole: Yeah, Larsson's bad too. 4th overall pick can't even hold down an NHL job? What a scrub.

As for Tyson Barrie, we've got a whole thread dedicated to predicting the value on his next contract. I've noticed a foregone conclusion in the comments section over there that Barrie is getting a 2 year bridge deal. Do you think that's wise? Or would you rather give a little more and commit to Barrie on a longer term

AJ: If we could talk Barrie into a Travis Hamonic-style deal (always comes back to the Islanders with me), I would say fucking do it. Do it do it. Do it. Do it. DO IT. If there's one guy that probably doesn't lust for the big payday, it's Barrie. He's been around big money his entire life so I would absolutely try to take advantage of that and sign him long-term to a cheaper deal that still banks him north of $25M.

Cole: Outside of Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie is the one guy I watched last year and thought, "Woah... If he's doing that now, what's he going to be doing two or three years from now." I think Tyson's ceiling offensively is extremely high, he has amazing talent and instincts and I think he's going to improve significantly as A) he gains more NHL experience and B) the defense around him/his defensive partners improve. For that reason I would try hard to lock him up to a 5-6 year deal right now. Barrie hasn't put in enough games to really prove it, so I completely understand the temptation to give him a bridge, but I think this is a guy who would make you pay for a bridge contract by making some serious strides over those 2-years. In two years I'd rather not be faced with signing EJ, O'Reilly, Barrie, and MacKinnon all at once. Give Barrie some term, you pay more for the next two years, but I think you'll pay a lot less for the next few years that follow.

AJ: I agree with you on the contract, disagree with you that he's doing to significantly improve from last season. I think last season we saw what he could be when every single cylinder was clicking for several months straight. I don't think he's going to ever break 50 and his defense is never going to match up against bigger talent (he's still routinely abused by physical players) but he's going to be a rock solid second-pairing guy for the next several years and hopefully beyond. I think he's taken the last BIG leap of his career. From here on out, it's harnessing that talent consistently and going from there. Anyway, yes, let's lock him up for a long time. I would go all in on Tyson Barrie...for a cheap deal.

Cole: I should clarify... I don't actually think it's Barrie's puck skills or point production that will improve so much as his game sense and judgement. Yes Barrie will always get abused in the corners by big Western Conference wingers, but I think with another few years we're going to see him exiting the zone much better, chasing the puck less in his own zone, and being stronger positionally. That said, I absolutely believe that Tyson Barrie can be a 50 point d-man in the NHL. That is a really tall task in this league but his 38 points this year put him on a 48.68 point pace over 82 games. Give him some minor growth as a player, improve his supporting cast on the blueline, improve the team's puck possession in general, and get this team in the top half of the league for power play opportunities (they ranked 22nd this year) and I think he can hit 50.

AJ: And then you assume he's going to continue shooting 12.9%, up from 3.4% the previous year, and you're golden!

Cole: No. I expect his statline to shift dramatically in the assist direction now that the Avalanche have a few more finishers up front

AJ: If he turns those goals into primary assists to Iginla, everyone is doing their jobs.

Cole: Exactly. He doesnt have to shoot at 12.9% for Iginla to slam the rebound. The Avalanche made a conscious effort to get better in front of the net and I think he'll benefit in the A category

AJ: We'll see. I hope he scores 60 and wins the fucking Norris. THAT is a major award.

Cole: It will be hard for him to steal the Norris from Chris Bigras next year (just sayin).

And with that, we'll call it for this week. Not entirely sure when we'll be doing another one as the NHL off-season is truly in the dead season with the secondary free agent market drying up but should anything big happen, you can count on Cole and I spending an afternoon talking about it.