ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Ryan O’Reilly is happy to have his contract issue resolved.
O’Reilly practiced with the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday morning, a little more than 36 hours after the team matched the offer sheet he signed with the Calgary Flames.
He passed a physical Friday and joined the team on the ice for the first time this season. He will be in the lineup when the Avalanche play at Columbus on Sunday.
“I feel good, I feel healthy and I can’t wait to play hockey again,” he said after the hour-long practice.
O’Reilly will jump right in after missing the first five weeks of the season. He will centre Colorado’s third line and skate with forwards John Mitchell and Milan Hejduk.
He will also play point on one of the power-play units and will eventually play on the penalty kill while working on getting his conditioning back.
“He looked fine,” Hejduk said. “He’s the kind of guy who always seems to stay in pretty good shape.”
O’Reilly stayed in shape. During the lockout he played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. While his agent tried to negotiate a deal with Colorado after the lockout ended in January, he played for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League.
That ended when Calgary stepped up Thursday. The Flames first tried to trade for the fourth-year centre but after a deal couldn’t be reached, they signed the restricted free agent to a two-year, $10 million offer sheet Thursday.
The Avalanche matched it a few hours later.
“I was sitting at home and got a call from my agent that there was an opportunity available and I wanted to play hockey,” he said. “So I signed it. I didn’t know what was going to happen but it was over quickly.”
He will make $1 million—prorated—this season, $6.5 million next year and received a $2.5 million bonus. His salary is second to Paul Stastny’s among Avalanche players.
O’Reilly, Colorado’s leading scorer last season, said he put his faith in his agent to get a deal done.
“I had to turn off my phone, stay away from the TV because it was like the world was going on without me,” he said. “It was tough. My agent did an excellent job. You can’t play hockey forever. You’ve got to get as much as you can when you can.”
He said he was unsure how his teammates would receive him, in part because his addition will mean less playing time for some players. But he was joking with them during practice, and in the locker room after players ribbed him for all the media attention he was receiving.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I got here this morning,” O’Reilly said. “Every guy was happy to see me and I guess they understand. It’s such a relief to have that.
“It’s an unfortunate situation but I don’t want to dwell on the past. It is a business, you have to take it that way, and that the end of the day I’m happy to be back.”
The only thing different for O’Reilly was his number. Last year he wore No. 37, but this year he’ll have 90.
“The last couple of years I wanted to change it, and after the situation it’s a fresh start,” he said. “It’s a new direction.”