Ryan O’Reilly has become a hot topic recently among Buffalo Sabres fans. One of the primary reasons is the idea of moving O’Reilly because he’s one of the few players on the roster that carry value. The other is if he really provides the perceived value to the roster or if he’s overrated for what he provides on and off the ice.
The 27-year-old is an easy target for fans who are disappointed in another bad season. He’s one of the current core pieces on the roster, has the big contract, was part of a big trade and is expected to be a leader in the room.
O’Reilly isn’t a flashy player and he won’t wow you with his skating ability. Neither of those things is real issues, but again help create the narrative of the misconception built up around him.
Let’s start with this season. You’ll hear some people say that O’Reilly isn’t living up to expectations this season. Well, what are these supposed expectations?
He’s a career 55-60 point player and roughly a career 20 goal scorer. He wins faceoffs, plays a two-way game and is billed as a leader.
The leadership ability can’t be measured, so we’ll leave that off to the side.
As for his production, he’s on pace to have a normal season. Take out the lockout year of 2012-13 he’s produced at least 55 points every season since 2011-12. His career highs came in 2013-14 when he scored 28 goals and 64 points for the Colorado Avalanche.
So, now that we’ve set the minimum (55) and maximum (64) levels of an expected season for O’Reilly. Let’s look where we are now.
Through 67 games he’s scored 19 goals and registered 50 points. Putting him on pace for 23 goals and 61 points this season.
To further my point. O’Reilly is currently scoring at a 0.75 points per game mark. Last season his point per game number was 0.76. The career average points per game number for O’Reilly if you exclude his first two seasons in the NHL is 0.74.
He’s not producing below his career average or above it for that matter.
These numbers also throw the notion that he’s not a fit in Phil Housley’s system out the window. He’s having a productive season in this system currently. In fact, is on pace to set career highs in a Sabres sweater.
You don’t have to skate fast to play the game fast. Players who lack the top end foot speed play fast with their hockey sense and movement of the puck.
If you were told back in October that O’Reilly would have 23 goals and 61 points this season a lot of fans would likely have signed up for that. If you’re one of the people who are upset with that production and feel it needs to be higher. Then you’re holding him to a standard that doesn’t match the player.
It would be great if Johan Larsson could score 15-20 goals a season. He’s not that player. Just like O’Reilly is never going to be a consistent 70-75 point player.
Now, that we’ve established O’Reilly is having a normal season, we can move onto the faceoffs factor of the breakdown. Everyone knows that he leads the league in faceoff win percentage.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they’re a huge factor. They don’t determine if a team is a playoff team or not. They don’t determine if a team is a good hockey club or not.
Having said all that. When something that involves possession is being considered it does hold some sort of value. When you have the puck, the other team can’t score and you have the ability to score.
While over a full 82 game season it doesn’t have a huge impact. Within a singular game, faceoffs could play a big part. Look at a few situations in last nights game against the Ottawa Senators.
O’Reilly wins a defensive zone faceoff to gain possession and negate the Senators chance at a short 10-second two-man advantage. He won another defensive zone draw in the second period to gain possession for his club. 30 seconds later Sam Reinhart is scoring at the other end to tie the game at two.
Here are a few more examples of faceoffs making an impact on a singular game:
Reinhart goal vs Ottawa
Zemgus Girgensons goal vs Toronto
Jake McCabe goal vs New Jersey
Moving past this season. It’s time to get to the major issue with O’Reilly, his contract. He carries a $7.5 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season. He’s tied at 27 in terms of the highest paid players in the league.
The first thing to consider is the position he plays is perhaps the highest valued position on a roster. Centers have more responsibility at both ends of the ice and are expected to facilitate the offense in most cases.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won two Stanley Cups on the back of a dominant center group with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino. They also just spent a first-round pick to get that depth back after losing Bonino in their acquisition of Derick Brassard.
With contracts going up every season, the going rate for a solid second line center may fall into the area that O’Reilly currently occupies with his cap hit. I’ll admit he’s at the high end of that spectrum.
The argument against O’Reilly is that his production doesn’t match the salary for which he’s paid. When you look at a few comparable contracts and their total points per game since the 2013-14 season up to where we are right now in this current season. It may change your perception.
Jason Spezza - $7.5 million – 0.72 PPG
David Krejci - $7.0 million – 0.76 PPG
Paul Stastny - $7.0 million - 0.70 PPG
Jakub Voracek - $8.25 million – 0.86 PPG
Kyle Turris - $6.0 million – 0.68 PPG
As a reminder, O’Reilly is a scoring at 0.75 points per game this season. Over that same stretch of time in which we measured the players above. He scored at 0.76 points per game.
The comparables are a few players who play the same position as the Canadian born center. Except for Voracek who is a winger. He was included to give an idea of production for players above O’Reilly’s cap hit.
While O’Reilly is never going be in the top 10 of the NHL in points. For the production and the rest of the package he provides. His contract actually isn’t too far off of the going rate.
It wouldn’t be hard to go find players who currently make less than O’Reilly that deliver a higher level of production. However, on the average, the argument that he’s overpaid based on his production doesn’t hold a ton of water.
At the end of the day. Objectively O’Reilly is a lot closer to undervalued than overrated. Even his peers believe that he is underrated as they voted him the fifth most underrated player in the league on the annual NHLPA survey.
That doesn’t mean that Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill shouldn’t listen if another club calls with an offer for O’Reilly in the summer.
Botterill comes from the Penguins organization, that as I mentioned previously considers the center position vital to building a roster.
Once you have depth down the middle, which the Sabres have at the very least with Jack Eichel and O’Reilly. You don’t give that up unless something very valuable is coming back in return.
Look at teams like the Montreal Canadiens who have been searching for top six centers in what seems like forever. The New York Islanders are another example of a team that can’t find a center behind John Tavares who they may lose this summer.
Remember back when Derek Roy and post-concussion Tim Connolly were the top centers on the roster for the Sabres?
This club doesn’t have a lot to build around currently except for the fact that they’re all set at center in the top six for the next few years at least.