Philly Sports Live

What We Learned: The case for Ryan O’Reilly’s contract (Puck Daddy)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.) Friday afternoon, while everyone was getting good and prepared for the Independence Day weekend, the Sabres snuck in a contract that surprised the hell out of the hockey world, and seems to have even led to many a derisive chuckle from the peanut gallery. “Seven years and $7.5 million for Ryan O’Reilly? Seems like a whole lot.” It is, in point of fact, the largest contract ever given to a Buffalo Sabre, and it therefore seems at least a little bold — especially because, in three years’ time, Jack Eichel is going to get a much, much bigger one — to give that kind of money to a guy who is perceived as having never in his life played first-line minutes. But in terms of how he was used by Patrick Roy, something over which he has no control, his minutes are often more difficult than those of, say, Matt Duchene, who gets the benefit of much easier zone starts but only slightly harder competition. And over the last four seasons, the total amount of 5-on-5 ice time separating them every night is 17 seconds, in O’Reilly’s favor. So just to get that out of the way: O’Reilly played slightly harder minutes against roughly comparable competition to Clear No. 1 Center Matt Duchene Who Is Great. What’s more, there is and has been this odd perception that O’Reilly is somehow not an effective producer, despite the fact that he has more points per 60 minutes (1.83) over the last four seasons than guys like Ryan Johansen (1.71), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1.69), Paul Stastny (1.66), and so on. He’s also in the same neighborhood as Nicklas Backstrom (1.86) and Joe Pavelski (1.87), etc. That’s not a huge number — it’s tied for 43rd among centers over that span — but it’s better than most people give him credit for. On the other hand, he’s one of only 20 centers in the league to clear 0.7 points per game overall and 250 games played since 2011-12. The rest of his company is pretty good , though. Tavares, Backstrom, Getzlaf, Seguin, Toews, Thornton, Sedin, Kopitar, Eric Staal, Pavelski, Couture, Ribeiro, Krejci, Duchene, Bergeron, Stepan, Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Carter. Elite company, that. And wouldn’t you know it: The average 2015-16 cap hit for the other 19 guys on this list is about $6.5 million, though a lot of those guys are on deals that were signed at least two years ago, when the cap was lower, or are older and therefore not going to get as much money. That number also doesn’t include that coming deal for Derek Stepan, whose contract will at least be close to O’Reilly’s if it doesn’t exceed it.  Anze Kopitar, for example, would likely make well north of his current $6.8 million cap if he hit the market this summer, despite the fact that he is four years older than O’Reilly. People would give him O’Reilly money happily, and feel they got a discount. And while Kopitar is better, he’s also had a better supporting cast, and a coach who actually knows how to run a hockey team successfully over the long haul. In addition, though, O’Reilly has, over the last four seasons, actually been among the best producers on the power play in the entire league. Among all forwards , his 4.96 points per 60 minutes of power play time is 29th in the league. Almost everyone ahead of him is an elite forward in this league (Seguin, Stamkos, Hall, both Sedins, Kessel, Kane, etc.). But even still, the problem with O’Reilly, who has 90 goals 246 points in 427 career games, is that if you’re looking at just his point production you are doing him a disservice. (That’s right, folks, it’s time for a look at O’Reilly’s underlying numbers!!!!) He is, in fact, elite-level valuable in terms of his ability to drive possession numbers for his team, which is admittedly terrible at this sort of thing. All those middling stats about scoring at 5-on-5 become world-class when you talk about possession. Among all forwards, the improvement Colorado has seen in its possession numbers — which, you have to keep in mind, tend to be dreadful — when O’Reilly is on the ice is 35th in the league. The improvement from about 46 percent to 50.3 percent is a big, big jump. It’s like going from a garbage team like this past season’s Toronto club to a very middling one like Minnesota. In addition to all that, O’Reilly is also an clear No. 1 faceoff man among heavily-used centers, placing 26th in the league at 5-on-5 over four seasons, which has a certain amount of value — though not as much as people will generally believe — to a club that got murdered at the dot last season; Buffalo’s 44.9 percent on draws was 30th in the league and not particularly close to the teams that tied for 28th and 29th (the Rangers and Canucks at 46.7 percent). But, if you’re not convinced O’Reilly is worth that kind of money, you’re not going to be convinced by the good but not great scoring lines, strong possession numbers, top-level faceoff stats, and so on. The fact is, most of that data says he’s probably not worth $7.5 million. You have to keep in mind that, while he played with good forwards a lot of the time, the defense behind him was typically underwhelming at best.