The Calgary Flames could have paid a higher price than draft picks if the Colorado Avalanche didn't match the offer for restricted free agent forward Ryan O'Reilly - namely, Ryan O'Reilly.
According to the Kontinental Hockey League's website, O'Reilly - who was unsigned until Thursday night - played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk on Jan. 21 and Jan. 23 (written in the game sheets as 'Rayan O Rayli'). And as NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN on Friday, O'Reilly would have had to clear waivers to join the Flames if he actually played overseas after the start of the NHL season on Jan. 19.
The NHL's collective bargaining agreement prior to this season stipulated that any player who plays in Europe after start of the NHL regular season needs to clear waivers to play in the same season in the NHL. However, a different interpretation of a new CBA provision was what apparently confused the Flames organization.
"Prior to tendering the offer sheet for Ryan O'Reilly we, as a hockey operations department, examined whether there were any impediments to our successfully securing the services of the player including, but not limited to, his having played in the KHL after the start of the current NHL season," Flames GM Jay Feaster explained in a team statement on Friday.
"Our interpretation of the Article 13 transition rules governing restricted free agents and the applicability of Article 13.23 under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to such RFA's was, and continues to be, different than the NHL's current interpretation as articulated to us this morning. Moreover, throughout our discussions, the player's representative shared our interpretation and position with respect to the non-applicability of Article 13.23.
While we were prepared to advance our position with the NHL, in light of Colorado's having matched the offer sheet it is now an academic point. As such, we will have no further comment on the matter, the player, or the offer sheet process."
The move isn't unfamiliar to NHL teams, as Evgeni Nabokov was claimed by the New York Islanders from the Detroit Red Wings under the same circumstances in 2011 and the Nashville Predators plucked Marek Svatos off waivers from St. Louis.
The Avalanche matched the Flames' offer sheet to O'Reilly just hours after Feaster announced the deal in a media statement on Thursday. Had the Avalanche not matched Calgary's offer, the club would have received the Flames' first and third-round picks in this year's draft.
O'Reilly's agent Pat Morris told TSN Radio 1050 that he was not aware of the waivers scenario. "I would not put any team in that kind of position," he said. "There were other teams that were speaking about offer sheets for a long time on Ryan O'Reilly and consulting with people at the league level on structure and format.
"We still haven't seen the CBA, the agreement is in place but I don't think the document is complete for anyone's eyes to read so that issue is the first I've heard of that. At the same time, one would have believed that Calgary doing what they did would have gotten the player if Colorado had made a decision not to match."
Morris added that he never got any indication from the Flames that they were aware of this provision in the CBA. "It wasn't discussed between the parties," he said.
Two of Feaster's GM colleagues joined TSN Radio 1050's The Drive with Dave Naylor and weighed in on the O'Reilly situation.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland stressed that it's tricky to negotiate the new CBA without teams having all the details down on paper to study.
"Obviously, right now it's a different time because there's a CBA in place," Holland told TSN. "We haven't really got the book. We've got the memorandum of understanding, but you'd like to get the book, the CBA and read through it."
Still, though, he believed Feaster and the Flames properly braced themselves for the offer-sheet.
"When you're thinking of doing things, you always call the league and double-check and make sure that your interpretation is the correct interpretation. We all do the same thing and I'm sure Calgary did all their due diligence."
Meanwhile, the Flames' division rivals from Vancouver could only speak to their own approach to acquiring young talent.
"That's somewhat of an unfair question," Canucks GM Mike Gillis remarked when asked about whether or not he knew about the possibility of O'Reilly having to go through waivers on The Drive. "I'm not sure of what [Calgary's] considerations were. We're aware of the rules in the CBA and we didn't make an offer sheet."
"We didn't consider it because we didn't think there was any hope of getting the player," Gillis added.
The two-year offer carries an average annual value of $5 million. O'Reilly will make $1 million in base salary for this season with a signing bonus worth $2.5 million. His 2013-14 salary will be $6.5 million.
According to TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie, the new collective bargaining agreement also allows the Avalanche to put O'Reilly back in their own lineup without clearing waivers.
While Article 13:23 in the pre-2012-13 CBA specified that any player who plays in Europe after start of NHL regular season needs to clear waivers to play in the same season in the NHL, the recent Memorandum of Understanding between the league and Players' Association says all players on a club's reserve list and RFA list will be exempt from the application of 13:23.
Therefore, teams can now sign their own restricted free agents or draft picks out of Europe in mid-season and get them into their NHL lineup without risking them being plucked off the wire.
Morris added that he expects both O'Reilly and the Avalanche to reunite under good terms upon his return to Denver.
"Business disagreements happen all the time in sports and other parts of life," he told TSN Radio 1050. "It's resolved now I'm sure all sides are happy with that and Ryan gets to play hockey again. There's no ill feeling from Ryan, I would expect given that Colorado has gotten a good young player back with their team is moving forward and what happened in the past can stay there."
O'Reilly was medically cleared to play on Friday and will practice with the team Saturday.