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Ryan O’Reilly vs. Colorado Avalanche: Is it just business or all bitterness?

Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly (90) shoots a goal against the Minnesota Wild during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series on Thursday, April 17, 2014, in Denver
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Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly (90) shoots a goal against the Minnesota Wild during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series on Thursday, April 17, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

It’s the kind of statement an agent has to make, and the kind of statement that makes one choke down laughter after hearing it. 

“Some people might look a little sideways at a club doing that to a special player,” said Pat Morris, agent for Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly, after his team took him to salary arbitration this summer rather than hand him a qualifying offer.

Essentially, the Avalanche had two choices: Take O’Reilly to arbitration, where he could be awarded a one- or two-year deal worth 85-percent of his salary for last season, or qualify him at $6.5 million, which was a wage Colorado never negotiated with O’Reilly.

But Calgary did. The Flames and O’Reilly agreed to an offer sheet in 2013 for two years and $10 million, structured so the second year carried a higher salary ($6.5 million) and thus forcing the Avs’ hand to either negotiate a long-term deal based on that number or deal with the arbitration fallout.

Because, you see, some people might look 'a little sideways' at a player doing that to his team after what was, at the time, one good season …

It was within the Avalanche’s rights to take him to arbitration, and within O’Reilly’s rights to sign to offer sheet, and within the Avalanche’s rights to get this whole process going by low-balling O’Reilly initially: He wanted $5 million per season, and they offered $3.5 million annually at best.

Ironically, $5.5 million is what he’ll make if the Avalanche take this thing to arbitration and win the case.

Here’s Adrian Dater with the nuts and bolts:

Under arbitration rules, O'Reilly can't be awarded anything less than 85 percent of his last base salary, which would guarantee him a minimum salary of $5.525 million for 2014-15. If the case goes to arbitration, which is becoming rarer in the NHL these days, O'Reilly can choose from one- or two-year contracts from the arbitrator's decision. O'Reilly can become an unrestricted free agent after two more seasons, but until then, the Avs can keep him if they choose, and at possibly a lower salary than they paid this season.

The Avs may save a few bucks in paying O'Reilly, but their decision to file for arbitration has seemingly thrown a new chill on their relationship.

Yet Pat Morris knew this was coming. “We had some warning that the arb is something they might take advantage of. It’s in the CBA,” he told Hockey Central on Sportsnet. “And Ryan understands the situation is unique. No player has been arb’d for a paycut that is of his stature.”

Other star players that were taken to club-elected arbitration were done so they wouldn’t get an offer sheet – Zach Parise with the New Jersey Devils, Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers, Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

O’Reilly was taken there because he screwed over his team, which was trying to screw him, and now will try to unscrew the screwing as is their right in the CBA. (Section 28.6: Unscrewing The Screwing, although we may be a few chapters off.)

It’s business. And if it increases the bitterness between player, agents and franchise, it’s only amplifying what’s already there. The KHL contract. The Flames offer sheet. For whatever reason, this player and this team can’t get on the same page about his value. It’s Thomas Vanek disease.

Again, Pat Morris:

"Ryan is unrestricted in two years, and under the model now, given that Colorado has arb'd him, short-term looks like what the future is for Ryan going forward, possibly year to year or for the next two years,” he said.

As much as we want to frown upon a player doing some of the things O’Reilly has done in this negotiation, the bottom line is that he’s an enormously special player: 64 points in 80 games, one of the better two-way players in the game and he’s only 23 years old.

The Avalanche have to be protective of their salary structure, understandably, with Matt Duchene at the top of the leaderboard at a $6 million cap hit. They see O’Reilly and want to give him Jamie Benn money ($5 million base salary in 2013-14), which of course is Jamie Benn money before the arrival of Tyler Seguin.

But on a different team, O’Reilly gets what he’s looking for. And he knows it. 

Which is why, at the end of this process, it's hard to imagine he won't end up on a different team ... 

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