Less than a week after snagging Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche hours before the draft, it appears the Buffalo Sabres are on the verge of locking the 24-year-old pivot up to a long-term deal.
According to a report by The Buffalo News’ John Vogl, a source has said O’Reilly and the Sabres have come to terms on a long-term contract and the deal will be announced soon. The terms of the deal, while not yet disclosed, will likely pay O’Reilly upwards of $7 million per season with the potential for the contract to be closer to the $8 million-mark per year.
O’Reilly is currently in the final year of a two-year, $12 million bridge deal which he signed in July 2014.
This past season, O’Reilly, who is heralded as one of the brightest young two-way pivots in the league, scored 17 goals and 55 points while skating nearly 20 minutes per outing with the Avalanche. While Colorado likely would have preferred to be able to keep the Clinton, Ont., native on their roster, contract negotiations between the two sides have been contentious for each of O’Reilly’s past two contracts. With the Avalanche trading for, and subsequently signing, center Carl Soderberg from the Boston Bruins, the writing was on the wall for O’Reilly and he was dealt to the Sabres.
The two-way play of O’Reilly is definitely part of what makes him such an appealing asset to Buffalo. At present, some of the most well regarded pivots in the league include Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, all of whom excel at playing the coveted “200-foot game,” meaning they’re as talented offensively as they are defensively. O’Reilly is seen by some as just a step behind the Toewses and Bergerons as a premier two-way center. In the past two seasons, he has finished sixth and 12th in Selke Trophy voting and has received votes in each of his professional seasons since his sophomore year in 2010-11.
Securing O’Reilly gives Buffalo a true top-line center and, in coming seasons, O’Reilly could create a formidable one-two punch down the middle with 2015 second overall draft pick Jack Eichel, who recently inked his entry-level contract with the Sabres. With Eichel and O’Reilly, Buffalo, who finished dead last in the NHL this past season and was considered one of the worst NHL rosters in recent memory, have immediately transformed themselves into somewhat of a darkhorse in the Atlantic Division.
While it’s uncertain who exactly O’Reilly will play alongside, the fantasy lineup already includes linemates such as Evander Kane, Matt Moulson or even Eichel, as the 18-year-old adjusts to the professional game on the wing instead of down the middle.
Since shortly before the trade deadline, nearly the entire look of the Sabres roster has changed. GM Tim Murray has added the likes of O’Reilly, Eichel, Kane, David Legwand and goaltender Robin Lehner, while shipping out players such as Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Chris Stewart, Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko. That’s no small amount of turnover in a span shorter than six months. The feeling is, though, that Murray’s work might already change Buffalo’s fortunes for the 2015-16 campaign.