This weekend, the Buffalo Sabres made two huge moves that have drastically shifted the future of their franchise. One of them, the selection of Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Draft, came as no surprise to hockey fans around the globe. But the other big move, acquiring Ryan O`Reilly and Jamie McGinn from the Colorado Avalanche, caught the hockey world by surprise.
To learn more about O'Reilly and McGinn, and how they might help the Sabres next year, we reached out to Ryan Murphy of Mile High Hockey for his perspective having watched these two players for the past few years.
1. Just how good is Ryan O'Reilly? He's already been named the Sabres #1 center, can he handle that role with the best, or will he be outmatched?
Ryan O'Reilly is a #1 center. Not in the mold of a Sidney Crosby or a Steven Stamkos, who are expected to be the ones putting the puck in the net, but the kind who will be matched against every top line, take every important faceoff, and get the most from his line mates. He makes high percentage decisions with the puck, is devastatingly good at creating turnovers at center ice, and doesn't take himself out of the game by committing penalties. Fans argue the true value of O'Reilly's game, some citing possession metrics while others point to the meager goal totals; and really, both are valid arguments. Ultimately, I believe this is what broke down contract negotiations with the Avalanche as well. Colorado, rich with natural centers and poor at defense, simply could not allocate any more salary cap space down the middle.
I also believe O'Reilly needed to move on to grow his game. He can go to Buffalo and instantly be the guy, whereas in Colorado that was always going to be Duchene, Landeskog, and MacKinnon. Maybe he can evolve as a goal scorer now that he may be asked to take on that role.
2. Much has been made of his multi-year contract demand saga. Is O'Reilly a problem off the ice that Sabres fans should worry about, or will this all go away if Terry Pegula opens up his checkbook?
O'Reilly had been a perfect gentleman through his entire tenure with the Avalanche. He appears to be a good teammate, gives sincere interviews, and has been a model member of the community. This is what's made the ordeal so difficult for fans: there's such a disconnect between his public perception and what has transpired behind-the-scenes in negotiations. I'm not sure a contract changes anything as far as fans are concerned, because it was really never an issue in the first place. I just don't want to be within a continent of his agents in six to eight years when he's up for another deal.
3. Where does Jamie McGinn play on a good team? Is he more of a 2/3 liner or a 3/4 liner?
Jamie McGinn, on a good team, is a 3rd line right wing. [Ed Note: There's a solution to Buffalo's RW problem.] He's a powerful player, who is good on the forecheck, and isn't shy about stirring things up near the crease. That said, he hasn't looked a bit out of place playing on top lines when called upon. He was the rough-and-tumble compliment on a Duchene-O'Reilly line two years ago that was so successful. McGinn's problem is staying healthy, and after last season's back surgery, which held him out for the majority of the season, it's reasonable to wonder how he holds up. The other issue is his contract being up at the conclusion of the season. With a 19-goal season under his belt, someone is going to pay him a fair bit of money, and that's a luxury not every team has in the salary cap era.
I was initially very excited when I learned the first details of this trade; but I paused when I found out McGinn's name would be included as well. He's a player who's very easy to cheer for and I hope he finds success in Buffalo.
4. Are Avs fans expecting Zadorov and Grigorenko to be significant players right away, or is there more time in the long-term plan to let them grow and mature?
I don't believe so. The Avalanche need defensive upgrades badly, but I think Zadorov likely slots in next to 53-point scorer Tyson Barrie playing sheltered minutes. He'd be a Top-4 defenseman, but Erik Johnson (and hopefully a top free agent) will be receiving the hard assignments. Grigorenko is more interesting. With McGinn gone, I do think the Avs need him on the big club, but it's hard to know in what role. With centers Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Carl Soderberg, John Mitchell, and Jesse Winchester already on the roster, I think they move him to wing and relieve him of the additional defensive responsibilities. It will be interesting to see how Patrick Roy constructs the lines next year.
5. The Avs had an amazing rise from worst to first in their division two years ago, then it all went wrong last year. Why?
Well, the advanced statistics told us the 112-point team from 2013-14 was due for some regression -- a young, poor puck possession team simply couldn't repeat that kind of success. Losing Paul Stastny to free agency likely had more effect than we all thought it would. It forced 19-year Nathan MacKinnon into a top center role he wasn't ready for and the team fell flat on its face to start the season. After quite a bit of line shuffling (including moving O'Reilly back to center from Duchene's left wing) the team righted the course and had a much stronger second half, though injuries to Johnson and MacKinnon likely the reason that precluded them from earning a playoff spot. Had the Avalanche stood pat with their roster, I would have guessed they were somewhere in the middle between the previous two seasons, somewhere around 96-98 points and looking at a wild card. Now, it's harder to know.
6. With the Sabres poised to make a big leap next year, what advice would you give Sabres fans for next season?
With the Eastern Conference being what it is, major improvement is definitely a possibility with this offseason's roster improvements. However, I think it's important to know young teams (and newly constructed rosters) are wildly inconsistent and unpredictable and it's healthy to temper expectations early on -- even from year to year! But there's nothing more exciting than being able to select a top talent in the draft and trade for big-name players. Let's all drink some beers, be good to each other, and enjoy some hockey.
So I didn't ask Ryan this directly, but a reference to Jamie McGinn stealing people's snacks came up in our emails. Here's what he had to say:
The McGinn/snack question relates to probably the longest running joke on our website. He came into camp a little heavy his 2nd year with the Avs, which was a concern with the team for all of ten minutes, but the incident has yielded years of ribbing. He is lovingly know by fans as Fatty or Mc-(insert food item). Eichel has a bad game? McGinn must have stolen his Wheaties -- you get the idea. It is fairly essential that this running gag persists. We're counting on you!
Thanks to Ryan for his help with this post. To hear our thoughts on Zadorov, Grigorenko, Compher, and how they might help the Avalanche next year, check out Mile High Hockey.