Ryan O'reilly to St. Louis is another step in the wrong direction for Buffalo
The Ryan O’reilly deal shows a combination of impatience, amateurism and hypocrisy that is at the core of a rotting Sabres franchise.
Shortly after adding a potentially generational D-man in the draft, GM Jason Botterill and the Sabres got to work. How does this team get better?
Their answer was trading Ryan O’reilly. Arguing that conclusion is meaningless now that he is gone, but pondering what the Sabres got back isn’t.
The return for Buffalo, underwhelming for some, promising for others, goes as such:
Vladimir Sobotka, C/W (Contract valid until 19-20; $3.5M AAV)
Patrik Berglund C/W (Contract valid until 21-22; 3.85M AAV)
Tage Thompson C/W (ELC; 26th overall pick in 2016 NHL draft)
2019 first round draft pick (top 10 protection)
2021 second round draft pick
So essentially, Buffalo added two veteran roster players, a prospect and two future draft picks. It doesn’t necessarily sound bad on paper, but it is.
To really evaluate this trade properly, we have to look at why ROR may have been moved, why he was moved right now, what the Sabres got and what the Sabres left on the table.
To start, the rumours surrounding a potential ROR trade started at the end of the season, following his locker room clean out interview with the Buffalo press. During the scrum, O’reilly mentioned losing his love for the game and the team accepting a losing mentality.
The Sabres jettisoned Kane at the deadline and didn’t qualify Lehner as well. Two guys that have baggage surrounding them off the ice, so the assumption that the Sabres moving ROR had off ice implications isn’t baseless speculation.
In fact, I’d argue it was a driving force behind the move. There are two positions in the NHL that are particularly valuable and incredibly difficult to fill. One of those positions, is a top line center, the other, is a top four right handed D-man.
I want to bring up Dougie Hamilton here, as he fits the top four right handed D-man description. Both Ryan O’reilly and Dougie Hamilton have been traded twice already in there NHL careers, and for players that play positions that the league puts such a premium on, would it not be fair to point at off ice contributions as a reason their careers have taken such odd turns? I think where there’s smoke there’s fire, and two organizations moving on from ROR before he turns 28 is odd to say the least.
Next is the timing, which is sketchy. ROR is due a $7.5-million signing bonus every July 1st -- similar to the structure of the newly inked Tavares deal and the McDavid deal before it. This means that ROR’s NHL salary over the course of a season is $1-million in actual cash. The Sabres had until midnight tonight to pick up the bonus, but they dealt him to St. Louis before that and the Blues picked up his bonus.
Now what conclusions can we draw from this? Well, perhaps the Pegula’s asked Botterill to move on from ROR before the bonus was due? Insiders reported that the Sabres told teams the price for ROR would go up after the team paid the bonus which means one of two things:
Either Botterill thought the return he got for ROR was the best he’d get and that they were perfectly content with the trade, or he was bluffing and got played by a savvy, more experienced GM. Both scenarios are bad news for Sabres fans.
It’s far too early to know what most of the trade will amount to, but what we can say is that the Sabres took on two contracts the Blues were reportedly more than happy to dump, a prospect who is neither a blue chip (more on that later) nor likely to make much of an impact for Buffalo next season, and two draft picks.
The more I look at the trade, the more I wonder what was going through the Sabres brass’ head. If we remove Sobotka and Berglund from the equation for a second, the Sabres return is diminished to Thompson, a 1st and a 2nd, which is essentially high-end rental value.
Now, add in the fact that the Sabres actually took on $7.3M in cap that the Blues were, again, actively trying to move, it suddenly becomes a harder return to defend.
According to Blues GM Doug Armstrong, Buffalo insisted on Thompson being part of the package, which is weird to say the least. Botterill has repeatedly suggested that they want to get faster, Thompson is the opposite of fast. Yes he has a great shot and at 6’5” has potential to be a top six sniper with a huge frame and an element of power to his game, but he’s not fast, and that’s an issue for a team that pays Kyle Okposo, Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson the GDP of a small country.
He’s also not Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou or Colton Parayko -- all high-end assets that the Sabres should have insisted on. If the Blues don’t wanna dance, find a new trading partner or keep him.
The Blues were able to add a #1 pivot who is arguably a top 5 two-way player in the game, and they didn’t give anything up that hurt. The key to winning any ROR deal, which is a losing battle in itself, was to get one or more foundational pieces that are of similar age to Eichel and Dahlin, the clear leaders of this team.
I don’t like being negative and I will gladly eat my words five years from now if Thompson is ripping 40 a year and the Sabres are competitive, but it’s hard to find any sliver of hope for Sabres fans on the subject of this particular deal.
Not getting back at least a blue-chip prospect for ROR is a failure.
Not getting back any regular NHLers that aren’t cap dumps is a failure.
The core of an ROR trade being draft picks is a failure.
Taking back $7.3M and not getting compensated for it in any way shape or form is a failure.
Trading away ROR was stacking the odds against yourself right from the get go, unfortunately for Sabres fans, it seems the only thing Botterill is capable of doing is stacking the odds against himself.
It’s likely the Sabres improve on last season, it’d be hard not to considering how awful they were.
The team's improvement and this deal however are independent things, and Botterill should be evaluated accordingly. The Sabres last botched rebuild came mainly because of a complete misuse of assets, here’s hoping Botterill isn’t following that path, though it seems he may be.
The final docket on the agenda for this ROR deal is where do the Sabres go from here. July 1st was a pretty mixed day, though not making any massive moves the team shored up the crease, brought back Scott Wilson for cheap and signed UFA prospect Brandon Hickey to an ELC.
But what now? What’s the plan? Are the Sabres really going to ask their franchise deprived of meaningful hockey since HD TV became a thing to remain patient? Are they really going to waste the first year and potentially more of Dahlin’s ELC just to stockpile more picks and prospects? What about Eichel? The first year of his $80-million contract kicks in this year, is it going to be spent at the bottom of the standings again?
Botterill better hope not, or else he may be next to go from Buffalo.