While John Tavares is going to receive the bulk of the headlines when it comes to available centers this summer due to his looming free agency, Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly is certainly a name to keep an eye on as well. In a segment on 630 CHED (audio link), Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman stated that he expects the Sabres to receive a lot of interest in their two-way pivot.
Last month, O’Reilly made waves at his exit interview, stating how he was content with losing and was losing his passion for the game. Some have speculated that his preference is to be dealt and that his comments were a ploy to force his way out of town.
The 27-year-old has emerged as a high-quality two-way player and is one of the best in the league at the faceoff dot. He also has been quite consistent offensively, putting up between 55-64 points in six of the last seven seasons; the one year he didn’t was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign (where his point-per-game pace extrapolated to 57 points over a full year). This past season, he had 61 points (24-37-61) in 81 games while taking over 2,000 draws for the first time in his career, winning a career-best 60% of them.
There is, however, one other notable factor and that’s his contract. O’Reilly has a $7.5MM cap hit which may be difficult to fit in for some teams but the breakdown is also noteworthy. The majority of his deal is in the form of signing bonuses that are payable in the summer; his in-season salary is just $1MM per year. Potentially, that could present a concern for some more budget-conscious teams, especially since the setup allows him to be paid most of his money even if there is another work stoppage on the horizon.
Despite that, given the demand for quality centers, it’s certainly reasonable to expect that GM Jason Botterill will field some quality offers in the weeks to come. In the interview, Friedman alludes to a belief that Botterill feels he needs to change the core (aside from drafting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin next month) and moving O’Reilly would be one way to do so while landing a quality package in return.