Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Digesting the Ryan O'Reilly deal

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-2-2018

Former Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier was a thief when it came to the return he got for his players. Tim Murray was a drunken sailor in respect to what he sent away to get his players. in the two years between the two when the Sabres were in rebuild-mode, the assets Regier got from trading is core group were thrown around by Murray and essentially wasted as none of the big three players Murray wanted to fast track his rebuild with are on the team are on the team. Jason Botterill came in as GM last season and in 14 months stopped the madness and began replenishing the cupboards that were left barren by his predecessor.

Murray's acquisitions of Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Ryan O'Reilly cost the Sabres two first-round picks, a second rounder, three young prospects (Brendan Lemieux, J.T. Compher and Nikita Zadorov) and two older prospects (Joel Armia and Mikhail Grigorenko) in various deals. He also completely emptied the organization in pursuit of the top-overall picks in two consecutive drafts. The two years after Murray and the Sabres tanked for Jack Eichel, his teams in Buffalo and Rochester were still left barren, he was fired and Botterill was brought in last May to clean up the mess.

Botterill took two of Murray's 'Big Three' and brought home some assets. At the 2018 trade deadline he traded Kane to the San Jose Sharks for what would end up being a 2019 first round pick, prospect Danny O'Regan and either a 2019 fourth-rounder or 2020 third round pick (at the discretion of the Sharks.) Last night he traded O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a 2019 lottery protected first round pick, a 2021 second, big forward prospect Tage Thompson and two veteran forwards in Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka. Of the eight futures Murray traded away to get his trio, Botterill was able to receive six in return.

Which isn't bad considering the place Botterill was in. Everyone knew Kane, a pending UFA, was a goner by the trade deadline and an O'Reilly trade was becoming more and more a foregone conclusion with each passing day. Yet both were valued enough by their new teams for them to send a decent amount of assets Buffalo's way to land them. Did Botterill fleece his trade-partner? Not even close. But he did what he could with what he had and for the situation he was in.

Quantity over quality seems to be the theme of this trade with the picks, namely the first-rounder, being the highlights of the trade. The Sabres now have three first round picks at the 2019 NHL Draft which is strangely familiar to what the team had in 2015. Much to the dismay of some in Sabreland Murray traded two of those picks (Nos. 21 and 25) in separated deals for young vets. Three years later it seems as if the consensus is that they should be trading one of their 2019 first rounders for immediate help.

There were thoughts that Botterill could land a top prospect, hopefully a left-winger, in the O'Reilly trade but when that didn't happen and because of it there seems to be a movement that would like to see a package, including a first-rounder, sent to another team for a top prospect. Which probably won't happen (although many thought the O'Reilly to St. Louis trade was finished.)

Thompson is a former first round pick (2016, 26th overall) but in his brief foray into the NHL, hasn't shown much. After leaving school (UConn) early, the 6'5" 205 lb. Thompson played for the Blues AHL affiliate for 16 games then made the big club last season out of camp. He ended up playing 41 games for St. Louis scoring nine points (3+6.) However, he had more success at the AHL-level scoring 18 points (8+10) for the San Antonio Rampage.

"What we see with Tage," said Botterill in a conference call with the media last night, "is a kid that has a great shot, great size, a really good reach on the ice. We think he's going to be a really good player that will step into our lineup and grow with our young centermen." Botterill would add later, "we really like his hockey sense and he has a bit of a shooter's mentality."

Berglund and Sobotka were interesting acquisitions by Buffalo in that their combined cap-hit of $7.350 million is just shy of O'Reilly's $7.5 million AAV. Berglund has four more years left on his deal while Sobotka has two. O'Reilly is a top-two center on most clubs in the league and will fall right into place in St. Louis.

On the same conference call Botterill framed the acquisition of the two veteran forwards as "getting NHL forwards that come in and [provide] more internal competition for our group, which is very important." The versatile Berglund will probably be somewhere in the top-nine  for Buffalo and if he ends up at center he may be able to help ease the burden of 19 yr. old center Casey Mittelstadt who's right behind Eichel on the depth chart at center. Sobotka can anchor the fourth line in an energy role. Either player can play center or wing.

Although it's not a huge haul for Buffalo talent-wise, perhaps Botterill learned a lesson from the Kane deal. It was rumored that a couple of first-rounders were on the table for Kane in December but Botterill waited. At the trade deadline the Sharks were only team to put forth a viable offer for the talented powerforward and Botterill had to take it. Had he not re-signed with the Sharks, that first-rounder Buffalo got would have turned into a second round pick.

Both St. Louis and the Montreal Canadiens were said to be in on O'Reilly but the Blues came through, and did so prior to 12:01 am today meaning that they took on O'Reilly's $7.5 million bonus for this season. Botterill said that if it went past that deadline and the Sabres had to pick up the bonus, "the asking price was certainly going to be a lot different." In doing that, Botterill put together a package that might not have been the most enticing to Sabres fans, but it got Blues GM Doug Armstrong to consummate the deal. "[Picking up the bonus] certainly played a role in making sure the deal was done" he said.

Botterill played it cool when it came to the goings-on in Buffalo's locker room, of which O'Reilly was rumored to be somewhat of a problem. He wiggled around that notion saying that he and his management group felt that they "had to change the dynamic."
"Bottom line," he continued, "there's a lot of great people in that locker room,  but when you finish 31st you must look to make changes."

Eichel was drafted as a franchise center and ever since that day the Sabres were looked at as his team. Most feel that O'Reilly never subscribed to that philosophy, something that may have caused some friction in the locker room. With him being traded, that's now in the past. The Sabres will move forward with a very young core featuring Eichel, Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart up front and will be anchored by 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin on the back end.

With O'Reilly now gone, Botterill's stamp is firmly on this team. Opinions will vary as to how good of a job he's done to this point but in 14 months he's been able to lay a foundation with his vision of what kind of team he wants and he may have moved out pieces that never fit his idea of the type of character he wants in his players.

Three years ago Tim Murray went out with the old and in with the new, as in young vets and two second-overall picks. Botterill flushed Murray's ideals away and starts anew with a very talented group of youngins cutting their teeth in new positions. He did what he had to do, now we'll see where it all leads.

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