Ryan O’Reilly and waivers: Could the Calgary Flames have ended up with nothing?

The Calgary Flames got aggressive on Thursday, signing Colorado Avalanche RFA Ryan O’Reilly to a 2-year, $10-million offer sheet that was quickly matched by the Avs.

Should Flames GM Jay Feaster count his blessings that his counterpart Greg Sherman anted up? According to one report, the Flames were saved from losing both O’Reilly and the two draft picks they would have surrendered as compensation to Colorado.

As Chris Johnston of Sportsnet broke the story this morning, O’Reilly’s time in the KHL this season meant he would have had to clear waivers before joining a new team:

The unsigned forward spent part of the NHL lockout playing with his brother, Cal, for Magnitogorsk in Russia. According to Metallurg coach Paul Maurice and KHL spokesman Shawn McBride, he appeared in games on Jan. 21 and Jan. 23 – both after the shortened NHL schedule was back underway – which meant that waivers were required before O’Reilly could return to the NHL as a free agent midway through the season.

…. That would have created a potentially disastrous situation where the Flames had to send two decent draft picks to Colorado before losing the rights to O’Reilly immediately afterwards. Hypothetically, it could even have been the Avalanche that ended up putting in a waiver claim on the player, assuming that they dropped back below Calgary in the standings by the time he hit the wire at the end of next week.

Oh, that would have been rich.

But is this how it would have gone down? The Collective Bargaining Agreement would appear to indicate otherwise, depending on the interpretation.

Here’s what the previous CBA said about players that began the NHL regular season overseas:

Here’s the clarification of that rule in the new CBA:

All Players on a Club’s Reserve List and Restricted Free Agent List will be exempt from the application of CBA 13.23 Waivers in the case of a mid-season signing.

For further clarity, if Club A trades such a Player to Club B and Club B signs the Player to an SPC, such Player will be exempt from the application of CBA 13.23.

Now, does this just apply to Colorado and O’Reilly, or does it apply to the Flames had they successfully signed O’Reilly?

Johnston said he was told it would only apply to the Avalanche, not the Flames, and hence Calgary would have to bring him through waivers.

However, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told – brace yourselves – Eklund in January that O’Reilly wouldn’t need to pass through waivers:

A late-night email from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirms that O'Reilly would be the first case under the newly amended rules if and when he returns to the NHL this season. Daly wrote, "No, he would not be subject to waivers. He would have been under last year's rules, but that was changed in collective bargaining."

The answer appeared to be in reference to a question about trade trading for O’Reilly. But maybe Daly thought it was about O’Reilly coming back to the Avs.

(FWIW, Johnston said Daly told him that "any quotes from him refuting my story aren't legitimate.")

Let’s say, for giggles, that the Flames could have lost O’Reilly and the picks. There are two views on this news. With which one do you most agree?


Call this one the Damien Cox Theory. That the Flames are so woefully mismanaged that they didn’t realize O’Reilly would have to go through waivers, where he would be snatched up like the last donut in a Calgary GM meeting. That along with being a team that’s deluded itself into believing it’s can be a contender with this roster, it’s a team that would have made a managerial blunder of Milburian proportions in losing both O’Reilly and a lottery pick.


There’s no question that Ryan O’Reilly won the day here, especially in getting that $6.5 million second year of his contract. But Colorado GM Greg Sherman is a fan of keeping his job, and getting O’Reilly back on the ice is a handy way of ensuring that. Since the sides were at an impasse, perhaps Sherman needed a proxy to get O’Reilly to sign and then have Colorado match. Or, conversely, agent Mark Guy needed a team to sign his client knowing that the Avalanche would match.

In either case, the Flames were the patsy: Having the picks and the finances to tender an offer sheet, but not having the intention to actually have it work.

They tried to trade for him. It failed. But maybe Feaster decided to do someone a solid anyway, and look like a proactive GM in the process.

Again, in theory. Because he couldn’t possibly be as shortsighted and reckless as that first example would suggest. Could he?

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