A Different View of the Ryan O’Reilly Dispute With the Colorado Avalanche


The Colorado Avalanche and forward Ryan O’Reilly are at odd again about his worth. You may remember that two years ago O’Reilly signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames after a similar disagreement over his value. The Avalanche eventually matched the offer and two years of harmony followed, but now the two sides are at odds again.

In a nutshell, the Avalanche are offering roughly five million a year and the O’Reilly camp is seeking more than six million per year. The negotiations are at a standstill and the dispute will likely be decided by an independent arbitrator later this summer.

You can make your own judgment as to which side you agree with, but let me offer a slightly different take on the subject.

Building a team in the salary cap era is a two tiered process starting with the talent piece of the equation. Obviously the accumulation of talent is the most important piece of putting together a winning hockey team. I’ve yet to see any team in any sport win a championship without talent, so it starts there.

In the old days before anyone knew what a salary cap was, the Avalanche may have been willing to get closer to O’Reilly’s demand but not anymore. In the salary cap era, teams have to balance what they can pay any one player with the construction of the rest of the roster.

That brings us to the second tier of the process which is acquiring as much talent as possible within the confines of a salary cap. If the Avalanche pay O’Reilly the six plus million he wants, then that is taking money away from another position. Putting together a roster is much like putting together a puzzle; management has to balance the acquisition of talent while also managing the salary cap.

Keep in mind that Executive Vice-President of Hockey Operations, Joe Sakic would also like to re-sign forward Paul Stastny to a long-term deal. In the past these deals would have been independent of one another and the negotiations simply would have been between the team and each player based strictly on perceived value. The salary cap has changed that and made the jobs of people like Sakic much more difficult.

Now teams have to assign a value to each player on the roster and they don’t have a lot of wiggle room as they did in the past. In addition to O’Reilly and Stasnty, the Avalanche also have to assemble a roster that is layered with role players and grinders. Every one of those players takes up a portion of the salary cap and it is up to Sakic to make sure the Avalanche are getting as much talent as possible with the money they have.

It’s easy for fans to say just pay O’Reilly, he’s worth what he’s asking for and that maybe true. However it’s also important for fans to remember that the Avalanche have to balance talent with what they can afford under a hard cap.