Heading into the NHL All-Star Break (Jan. 22-26) there's growing speculation over the trade status of Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly. TSN's Bob McKenzie last week reported the Avalanche aren't actively shopping the 23-year-old forward but are gauging his trade value.
It's reached the point where O'Reilly is mentioned daily in the rumor mill. The Avalanche are in need of defensive help. It's widely assumed O'Reilly, the 2014 Lady Byng Trophy winner, could become a trade chip to land a top-two defenseman. As a disciplined two-way performer who can play center or wing, O'Reilly could be a much-prized trade target.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes the Avalanche are ready to move O'Reilly, citing his contentious contract history and his unrestricted free agent status in July 2016. Nick Kypreos claims the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres are among the clubs with interest in O'Reilly. Mike Johnston lists the Leafs, Sabres, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks among potential destinations.
The Toronto Star's Kevin McGran claims one rumor has the Leafs offering up defenseman Jake Gardiner and perhaps center Tyler Bozak for O'Reilly, while Mark Zwolinski cites other speculation has the Leafs offering up Cody Franson or Nazem Kadri as part of the return.
NBC Sports' Jason Brough also includes the Leafs and Sabres in his list of possible landing spots for O'Reilly. He also names the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals as possible suitors. TVA Sports analyst and former Canadiens employee Patrice Brisebois claims Habs GM Marc Bergevin has been interested in O'Reilly for the last two years.
The Edmonton Journal's Jonathan Willis suggests the Oilers would have to include a defenseman like Justin Schultz, Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom to make a pitch for O'Reilly. McKenzie doubts the Vancouver Canucks could it could cost them defenseman Alex Edler the land the Avs forward.
The factors Friedman believes could push the Avs to move the young forward (contentious negotiations, UFA status, expensive salary) are those McKenzie suggests could complicate trade discussions.
At the heart of the matter is O'Reilly's contract. He's earning an annual cap hit of $6 million, though in actual salary he's earning $5.8-million this season and $6.2 million for 2015-16. He'll only be 25 when he become eligible for UFA status.
Given the tendency for NHL teams to re-sign their key free agents well before their UFA eligibility, O'Reilly could become the best available player in the 2016 free-agent market. That puts him in an excellent position to command as much as $8-million per season.
Rival GMs interested in acquiring O'Reilly will want assurances he'll re-sign with them. They don't want to give up good assets for a player who'll bolt for free agency in just over a year's time.
There's also the matter of return. The Avalanche will want a top-two defenseman or a promising young rearguard with top-two potential as part of the return. From the Leafs, that could mean Morgan Rielly. From the Sabres, Tyler Myers. They could seek Keith Yandle from the Coyotes or Schultz from the Oilers.
If the Flames pursue O'Reilly, defenseman T.J. Brodie has to be part of the equation. The Avs could seek Jack Johnson from the Blue Jackets, or Marc-Eduoard Vlasic from the Sharks. The Canadiens won't give up P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar are too long in the tooth and Alexei Emelin has a full no-trade clause.
Of these, the best deal seems a swap of O'Reilly to Arizona for Yandle, though the latter is also eligible for UFA status in 2016 and the Avs could have concerns about his future.
It remains to be seen if Ryan O'Reilly is dealt by the March trade deadline, but it's clear he will remain a hot topic of media trade chatter.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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