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In which Ryan O’Reilly defeats the Colorado Avalanche, wins offer sheet game

Greg Wyshynski
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“Sometimes the process takes a little longer than you expect, or than you’d want.”

That was Greg Sherman, general manager of the Colorado Avalanche, king of the understatement. He faced the media on Thursday night, putting on the best face he could in light of having been outmaneuvered by restricted free-agent Ryan O’Reilly, the Calgary Flames and, frankly, by his own asking price for a player that probably won’t be in Denver a year and a day from now.

The Flames tendered a 2-year, $10-million offer sheet to O’Reilly that the Avalanche swiftly matched.

“It was our goal from Day 1. In that regard, to get Ryan back in the Avalanche uniform and back on the ice as soon as possible, we’re happy for that to be the case,” said Sherman.

On the ice, in his Colorado pajamas … yes, these are reasons to rejoice. When he gets up to speed, O’Reilly is one of the best young two-way centers in the NHL. Hockey Prospectus wrote that the “most statistically comparable players at his age actually include Mark Messier and Joe Thornton” and projects O’Reilly for a Selke. This is the kind of player you want back on your bench.

O’Reilly knew this. His agents, Pat Morris and Mark Guy, knew this. They played this thing to perfection.

O’Reilly wanted 30-goal scorer money: $5 million a year, for a long-term deal.

From the Denver Post on Jan. 21:

Last week, an NHL source told The Denver Post that O'Reilly, 21, was seeking $5 million a year and turned down two deals: two years for $7 million (a $3.5 million average) and five years worth $17 million ($3.4 million average) .

But Guy said a salary of that amount would apply to O'Reilly only if signed to a long-term deal that brought him past unrestricted free agency, which is reached at age 27, or seven years of service. O'Reilly turns 22 on Feb. 7.

The Avalanche didn’t want to pay him that, based on one year of production at that level.

From Adrian Dater of the Denver Post:

O’Reilly is basing all his salary demands on one good year. He wants at least $5 million a year for one good year. But he’s played three. Sorry, kid, but you haven’t proven yourself enough yet to get that kind of money. Besides, if you’re as good as you say you are, then you’d have taken a one- or two-year deal, played your butt off and put up another big and maybe even better year and PROVEN you’re not just a one-year wonder. Then, you would have really had the Avs by the shorthairs at the bargaining table.

So what did he end up doing? Signing a two-year deal, and one that quickly builds to a $6.5 million salary in year two, thus setting the bar for future salary, be it through a qualifying offer in 2014-15 or a blockbuster long-term deal with the Avalanche (or another team, if he’s traded).

How did he get this plum contract? Why, by signing with a division rival (for now)! And not just a division rival: One with some history with Avs management.

From the Denver Post:

Flames GM Jay Feaster, Flames scout Michel Goulet, Flames coach Bob Hartley and Flames assistant coach Jacques Cloutier used to all work for the Avalanche under Pierre Lacroix. Today, those guys and others in that NHL organization really stuck it to the Avs in announcing a rare RFA offer sheet to unsigned Colorado center Ryan O’Reilly.

This time it’s personal.

O’Reilly and Guy knew Sherman would match just as much as they knew someone like Feaster would tender them an offer sheet – desperation. Feaster wanted O’Reilly, didn’t want to meet the Avs’ asking price, and offer sheet’d him, all because his job hangs in the balance. At the rate the Avs are going, Sherman won’t be around to enjoy the fruits of the Flames’ No. 1 pick this summer.

These were two men managing for now. Guy and O’Reilly played them well.

And oh, did they play Sherman. He can’t trade O’Reilly for a year. The salary he’s owed next season seriously impacts the Avalanche payroll. Via Mile High Hockey:

O'Reilly will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2013-2014 season. Barring an extension before that, the Avalanche will need to tender O'Reilly a QO of 100% of 2013-2014 salary, or $6.5 million dollars. The Avs could take O'Reilly to arbitration, but the lowest award for Radar would be 85% of his salary - $5.5 million. Probably not worth it, but who knows. Either way, the big money seriously impact the negotiations of other deals. Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Jamie McGinn, Steve Downie, Semyon Varlamov and Tyson Barrie are all slated to become free agents in the summer of 2014 (Downie and Stastny are UFA, the rest RFA). Duchene and Landeskog in particular should be able to use O'Reilly's contract as a major bargaining chip.

But most of all: Out of all this contempt and tension, out of all of this pride-swallowing, Greg Sherman has to pay a $2.5 million signing bonus to a player that just schooled him.

Hey, thanks for making life hell for me, kid. Here's $2.5 million for your troubles. Ouch.

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