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Thursday, February 28, 2013
What happens now O'Reilly back with Avs?

By Pierre LeBrun

NEW YORK -- The game had just ended at Madison Square Garden when veteran agent Pat Morris saw his phone buzz.

It was a text from Jay Feaster, the Calgary Flames GM, telling Morris the Colorado Avalanche had already matched the offer sheet on center Ryan O'Reilly.

Well there goes that.

It capped a wild day for the Flames, the Avalanche and the Newport Sports agency, which brokered the deal.

The surprise isn’t so much that Colorado matched the $10 million, two-year offer, but rather how quickly they did it -- just hours after Calgary struck. Morris cleverly structured the deal so that the second year carried a $6.5 million salary, which means that’s also his qualifying offer to retain his rights in the summer of 2015. That’s high-rent district for penny-counting Colorado.

Ryan O'Reilly
Will the Avalanche look to trade Ryan O'Reilly one year from now?
Add in the fact the Flames were dangling what could be a lottery pick as part of the compensation if Colorado didn’t match, and some people wondered how this would play out over the seven days the Avs had to mull it over.

Of course, there’s also the fact Colorado never wanted to pay O’Reilly $5 million a year, so why do it now?

Six team executives from other NHL clubs were asked by ESPN.com Thursday evening -- before Colorado announced its decision -- if they thought the Avs would match. Five returned a firm yes, and only one team exec though the Avs would not match.

And as it turned out, not much mulling was needed.

"It’s within the CBA, Calgary wanted the player and stepped up and made a statement," Morris told ESPN.com. "Colorado had the right to match, and they did it. You determine it in negotiation; I don’t know how much of that word got into how the Ryan O’Reilly dealings were with Colorado, and that’s unfortunate."

Indeed, the so-called negotiations between the Avs and Newport weren’t rosy, to say the least.

"Ryan had a feeling of where he was at over his three years in his progression," said Morris, who along with colleague Mark Guy represents O’Reilly. "They had a disagreement on that. We had a business disagreement. That happens all the time in sport and in life. Fortunately there’s a resolution and that’s the best thing -- Ryan O’Reilly is going to play hockey again. Seven days from now it would have been with Calgary. Now it’s with the team that drafted him."

O’Reilly is a pro. He’s a character kid. He’ll return to that Avs dressing room and play his heart out on the ice. That much we know.

"Very excited to join back up with the boys," O’Reilly tweeted Thursday night. "Can’t wait to get on the ice and play in front of the great Avalanche fans again."

But what’s unknown is what Avs management will decide to do with the asset they decided to protect Thursday night.

Under the terms of the CBA, they can’t trade him now until Feb. 28, 2014 -- one calendar year.

Said one NHL source Thursday night: "I bet you they move him as soon as they’re allowed to."

I’m not so sure about that. Time heals. If he goes back and plays his bag off, this little episode can easily be forgotten.

But for the sake of it, here’s an interesting factoid: The NHL’s trade deadline for next season isn’t written in stone yet. The NHL won’t determine critical dates for next season until it knows what’s going on with the Olympics.

Just where exactly that trade deadline falls is significant. Some years, it’s in late February. Other years, it’s in early March. The question now is whether the one-year O’Reilly trade freeze lifts in time for the trade deadline next season or not.

Food for thought.

What makes no sense is the Avs played this out so long that they allowed another team to finally build up the nerve for an offer sheet. Now Colorado has to live with a contract it hates.

Well, that’s Colorado’s own fault. It should have found a trade package that was reasonable and dealt him way before Thursday.

Goodness, there was interest from nearly every single team in the Eastern Conference where it would have been preferable to move him.

But several teams expressed frustration to ESPN.com over the past few weeks over the three-asset return Colorado was asking for. Way too high, teams felt.

Now the Avs have a fractured relationship to heal, a contract they don’t like and an asset they can’t move for a year.

Finally, one last point, relating to offer sheets: From Nashville matching Philadelphia’s whopping offer sheet on Shea Weber last summer to Colorado grudgingly doing the same with Calgary’s attempt on O’Reilly, you understand now why teams more than ever are going to be reticent to even bother.

Said one NHL executive to ESPN.com this past week, when asked why he wasn’t thinking of giving O’Reilly an offer sheet: "Waste of time. If it’s a good player, the team will always match. Always."

We may not see another one for quite a while.