The Buffalo Sabres have the first-overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft, and are expected to use it on Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. That gives them another potential superstar talent to ice with Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt as what would be a solid core. If that’s the trio the team is set to build around though, there are questions swirling about what it means for the rest of the roster. There has been a shortage of wins in Buffalo the last few seasons, but not necessarily a shortage of talented players. Certain names have been regularly brought up in trade talks, and this season saw Evander Kane go as a big ticket item at the trade deadline.
In the latest edition of the “Bobcast” TSN’s Bob McKenzie speculates on who might be first out the door for the Sabres this summer, as he believes there are big changes coming. Terming it—however hesitantly—a “culture change” on the way for Buffalo, McKenzie opines on the future of center Ryan O’Reilly.
There’s no question in my mind that the Sabres are open for business. My sense is that after the exit interviews were done with the Sabres, I think they realized they really need to make some changes to their core. I hate to use the term “culture change” because I think it’s such an over-used cliche, but I do believe it applies in this instance, that there does need to be a culture change in Buffalo. So I think they’re all ears on just about anybody not named Jack Eichel or Rasmus Dahlin. I suppose that’s a little bit hyperbole, I mean it always is when you say “they’re listening on everybody”—it’s not a fire sale.
In my view, the player that is most likely to be moved is veteran center Ryan O’Reilly. Now in some ways mentioning him first after mentioning “culture change” that’s probably not fair to him. Because it sort of implies that he’s at the root of everything wrong with the Buffalo Sabres, and the Sabres’ culture of losing and that’s not entirely true, in fact it may not be true at all. But he’s a core guy, and if you’re going to effect a culture change, you need to move core guys. It’s as simple as that.
O’Reilly is starring for Team Canada currently at the IIHF World Championship, but could be coming back to a different team next season. The 27-year old is arguably the best faceoff man in the league and put up another 60-point season this year. That’s a sought-after commodity on the open market, and even with the five years left on his contract at a $7.5MM cap hit, he could be attractive to many teams.
McKenzie lists the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens as two potential landing spots, though both seem to be speculative at this point. Both teams have been looking for help up the middle for some time, and both are trying to compete in 2018-19. McKenzie suggests the deal would have to look something like the Mike Richards trade from 2011, which brought the Philadelphia Flyers Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn—both of whom were very young players at the time—and a second-round pick. A package like that would certainly help build the new core around the above mentioned trio, and could propel the Sabres to relevancy again in the coming years.
O’Reilly will earn a $7.5MM signing bonus on July 1st, something that is repeated (in some fashion) for each remaining year of his deal. Interestingly that could reduce the cost of his overall deal quite a bit should a team wait until later in the summer to acquire him, though that would obviously then change his value in a relative manner.
It’s not often that a 60-point center in the middle of his prime comes available, especially one that is capable defensively and already locked up long-term. That contract will easily scare off some teams who don’t believe that O’Reilly is a difference-maker, but also could be very attractive, especially if Buffalo were to retain a portion or take a smaller return of assets.
Either way, there are changes coming in Buffalo and O’Reilly might be one of the biggest names on the market this summer. If he is truly available, you can bet there will be several calls placed to GM Jason Botterill in the coming weeks.
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