O'Reilly on top of the hockey world

June 13, 2019

I’m not going to lie. When the playoffs started I was rooting against the St. Louis Blues. More specifically I was rooting against Ryan O’Reilly. But those feelings dissipated over the two month run by the Blues who won the first Stanley Cup in the 52 year history of the franchise. O’Reilly had a great playoff for the Blues and was deservedly awarded with the Conn Smythe trophy. But I’ll tell you the twitter world was one angry place to be during game seven of the final from the time O’Reilly was credited with the Blues first goal through the moment where he was handed the Conn Smythe trophy by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. 

There was anger directed towards O’Reilly who some felt had quit on the Buffalo Sabres. There was anger directed towards Jason Botterill who was being roasted for trading O’Reilly after last season.  Some were spewing venom towards Jack Eichel, blaming him for not getting along with O’Reilly which they felt led to the Sabres decision to make the deal. Some even blamed the tank.  I truly believe the tank will be blamed for everything until the Sabres win a Stanley Cup, if that ever happens. I bet the lousy spring weather we’ve had is a result of that darn tank.

I don’t spend any time stressing out over that trade. We can’t go back in time and change history so what is the point? But O’Reilly having a career year and then leading the Blues to their first ever Stanley Cup definitely struck a nerve among Sabres fans. I don’t hold any grudges towards O’Reilly. I don’t think he quit on the team during his last season here(or maybe I should use the word tanked). As far as we know he never went to management requesting a trade. While I didn’t care for his locker room clean out comments about losing his love for hockey, those did not trigger the plan to make him a former Sabre. Botterill was reported to have shopped O’Reilly around the league at the trade deadline. 

If you were angry while watching O’Reilly succeed it was more likely about the return the Sabres got for him and the fact that O’Reilly’s departure opened up a massive hole that Botterill is still trying to fill. If the Sabres had a player like Jeff Skinner to show for the O’Reilly trade it would cushion the blow so to speak but they don’t.  Finding a number two center should be the top item on Botterill’s off season to do list now that he’s taken care of the coach hire and the Skinner contract. The book is not closed on the return from St. Louis in the deal but as it stands now that trade is one of the worst in Buffalo sports history.

Patrick Berglund was supposed to be the number two center while Casey Mittelstadt played out his rookie season. Berglund stepped away from the game for personal reasons. As bad as Vladimir Sobotka was there’s no reason to be upset about him because nothing was expected. That was a case of the Blues getting the Sabres to take that contract off their hands. They key to the deal was/will be Tage Thompson and the two draft picks that were acquired. Thompson’s first season in Buffalo was a wash. He probably should have started the season in Rochester and definitely should have been sent down to the AHL when he struggled early on.  Thompson ended up playing in 65 games, scored seven goals, added five assists and averaged 12 minutes of ice time. He’s big, he can skate okay and he has a heck of a wrist shot but there was nothing in terms of his play that would leave you feeling encouraged about his future. 

As to the draft picks, the Sabres received the Blues first round pick in this year’s draft which now turns out to be the final pick in round one.  They also received a second round selection in the 2021 draft so neither of those picks will help this team in the immediate future.

Keep in mind the Sabres were not forced to trade O’Reilly. They thought it was in the best interests of the team and it was part of a series of off season moves to improve the culture. 

But that is water under the bridge. After all, thanks to O’Reilly and his Blues teammates, we didn’t have to suffer through another Boston team winning a championship. Now its on to the off season where the pressure will be on Jason Botterill to find a number two center, among other things, and to turn the Sabres in the right direction.