NHL

Cullen: What kind of value might O'Reilly bring in trade?

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Scott Cullen
2/15/2013 2:24:35 PM
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Colorado Avalanche C Ryan O'Reilly, the lone marquee unsigned restricted free agent, has been the subject of trade talks, with increasing reports in the media, so it seems as good a time as any to look around the league to see what kind of package that Colorado might fetch should they go ahead and deal their talented two-way centre.

First, it needs to be established that Ryan O'Reilly is a very good player, probably better than you think. Especially better than you think if you're one of those who looks at his career and says that he "only" scored 26 points in each of his first two seasons before scoring 55 points last season. Keep in mind, those 26-point seasons were the work of a teenager.

A few frames of reference for O'Reilly's early-career production:

First, he played more than 2500 minutes through his first two seasons. Since 2000, there have been six other forwards to play that much as 18 and 19-year-olds and it's pretty good company: Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and Sam Gagner.

Secondly, since 2000, there have been 25 forwards (including O'Reilly) to record at least 50 points in their 20-year-old NHL season.

Of those 25 forwards, 11 scored fewer than 65 points in their Age 20 season. Seven went on to score at least 65 points at some point in the next three seasons. Of those that haven't, three (Taylor Hall, Jakub Voracek and Evander Kane) have yet to play three seasons since scoring 50 points.

David Perron, who missed 97 games due to concussions when he was 22 and 23, is the only forward since 2000 to not put up 65 points in one of the three seasons following a 50-point, 20-year-old season.

I chose 65 points as a threshold because, in 2011-2012, that would have ranked among the top 15 NHL centres in scoring. (There are some players incorrectly cited as centres in that link.)

There is some notion out there that Ryan O'Reilly isn't a number one centre because he's not going to score 100 points. Let's be clear, there are less than a handful of 100-point centres in the league and two of them play in Pittsburgh. There are a handful more who might consistently score a point-per-game and, after that, there is a larger group, with more variance from year to year, that may put up between 55 and 75 points.

If O'Reilly falls into that group, given his defensive value and the consistently tough matchups he takes on, it's hard to imagine that he doesn't warrant the status of a No. 1 centre.

Maybe he's not a No. 1 centre in the Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos sense, but how about in the Patrice Bergeron or David Backes mold, productive offensive players who consistently face the opponent's best lines, start more shifts in the defensive zone and control 200 feet of ice?

For whatever reason, the Avalanche aren't finding common ground with O'Reilly on a new contract. It's hardly the first time a team and a player have had different ideas about relative value. Since it doesn't currently look that likely that there will be an agreement, maybe a trade is a way for the Avalanche to recoup some value.

From Colorado's perspective, they do have Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny down the middle already, so it isn't imperative that they get another centre in exchange for O'Reilly. What is important, however, is getting multiple pieces that will help shore up holes. A forward would be nice, but if a team is willing to part with a premium defenceman, that should hold some appeal too, since Colorado's defence lacks difference-makers.

Darren Dreger has reported that the asking price for O'Reilly begins at an NHL roster player and a top prospect, but there is likely some variability. If the roster player is good enough, or presents favourable value due to their contract, maybe the prospect doesn't have to be the best. Perhaps draft picks will also play a role. If more teams start making offers, the price will, naturally, go up.

Upon looking around the league, here are some teams that could use O'Reilly and might be able to come up with a suitable package of players for Colorado.

Taking a couple of reasonably-priced assets, maybe plus a draft pick for good measure, from any of the following might be enough to appeal to the Avalanche:
Carolina (Jamie McBain, Ryan Murphy, Zac Dalpe, Jiri Tlusty)
Chicago (Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Mark McNeill, Adam Clendening)
Montreal (Lars Eller, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi)
Nashville (Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Jonathon Blum, Ryan Ellis)
N.Y. Islanders (Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, Aaron Ness, Griffin Reinhart)
Phoenix (Keith Yandle is a premium price, so might not require much more)
Toronto (Nazem Kadri, Nikolai Kulemin, Joe Colborne, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner)

Certainly other teams could come up with offers -- any team has NHL players and prospects at their disposal -- but those seemed like some viable alternatives.

Wherever he ends up, O'Reilly will face a certain amount of pressure.

The first consideration is that he still needs to sign a contract. The team acquiring him will have to be aware of what kind of deal he's expecting, in the neighbourhood of $5-million per season, and be prepared to get that kind of deal done.

At that price, O'Reilly will need to produce offensively, but he can't do it at the expense of the defensive value that has set him apart in his first three NHL seasons. It's that defensive value, combined with offensive production, that warrants Ryan O'Reilly being treated like a number one centre.

Whenever he does hit the ice, O'Reilly had better be prepared to perform like a top centre because the longer his contract dispute rages, the more expectations will rise.

There are already many who scoff at his contract demands (Who does he think he is?), citing career point totals, but if O'Reilly gets this contract situation settled, he can focus on becoming one of the game's better two-way centres, a commodity that isn't often undervalued.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Ryan O'Reilly (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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