What to do about Ryan O'Reilly?

June 26, 2018

Draft weekend came and went and Ryan O'Reilly is still a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

But for how much longer? If I were a betting man, I'd bet that O'Reilly is not on the roster come opening night. The reasons for the Sabres to trade one of their top-two centers outweigh the reasons to keep him.

General manager Jason Botterill doesn't have to trade O'Reilly, but I think he will for reasons that include: salary cap flexibility, changing up the makeup of the locker room and the long term view down the middle of the ice. O'Reilly certainly has value and the Sabres should have a number of suitors for his services. That list could grow even further if the Sabres pick up the $7.5 million bonus due on July 1st. There should also be teams looking for a center that will turn to the free agent crop but get shut out.

In terms of the salary cap, the Sabres aren't in bad shape, but O'Reilly does carry a $7.5 million cap number for five more years. I'm guessing the Sabres are expecting Casey Mittelstadt to take over the role of No. 2 center somewhere in that time frame and sooner rather than later. That's a lot of money and a big cap number for your third line center.  

If Botterill is interested in trading for someone like Max Pacioretty or Jeff Skinner, he might want to have that cap space available since both of those players are one year away from free agency. If the Sabres acquire either player and want to keep them beyond next season, it might cost around $7 million a year. Wingers who have scored goals with the regularity that Pacioretty and Skinner have scored will likely use the Evander Kane contract as a starting point for average annual value.

What about the makeup of the room? If Botterill feels that was a problem last season, my guess is moving bottom line forwards or bottom pair defensemen won't do it. He'd probably have to address the "core group". The prime candidates in there are O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart or Rasmus Ristolainen.

No question a trade of O'Reilly would create a void since he can handle 20-plus minutes easy, take most of the key faceoffs, play on the top power play as well as the penalty kill units and you can lock him in for 55-60 points. But again, you have to give up something to get something. And since we've always been told it's hard to find good centers, O'Reilly would be an attractive piece. Botterill needs to improve team speed and scoring up front and dealing O'Reilly should bring back help in those areas.