Mackenzie: Sabres are open for business

By Brandon J. Koch

In the latest installment of the Bobcast with Bob Mackenzie, he talked about the Buffalo Sabres being open for business.

He went on for a while about what the Sabres could do, and Ryan O’Reilly was front and center on those discussions.

Mackenzie: “There’s no question in my mind the Sabres are open for business, and my sense is that after the exit interviews were done with the Sabres, I think they realized they really need to make some changes to their core. And I hate to use the word ‘culture change’ because I think it’s such an overused cliche, but I do believe it applies in this instance, that there does need to be a culture change in Buffalo.”

On building with Eichel and Dahlin: “So I think they’re all ears on just about anybody not named Jack Eichel or Rasmus Dahlin, and I suppose that’s a little bit hyperbole. I mean, it always is when you say, ‘They’re listening on everybody.’ I mean, it’s not a fire sale. But I think if they do get a call on just about anybody there, other than Eichel or obviously the first overall pick and what will become Rasmus Dahlin, they are going to listen.

On Sabres culture: “And in my view, the player that is most likely to be moved is veteran center Ryan O’Reilly. Now in some ways mentioning him first after mentioning culture change, that’s probably not fair to him. Because it sort of implies he’s at the root of everything that’s wrong with the Buffalo Sabres and the Sabres’ culture of losing, and that’s not entirely true. In fact, it may not be true at all. But he’s a core guy. And if you’re going to effect a culture change, you need to move core guys – it’s as simple as that.”

End of season: “And O’Reilly did garner some negative attention – or actually, some pats on the back too, marks for honest at the end of the season – when he came out of his exit interview and said, ‘Yeah, I did get kind of consumed by the losing. I started to go down a negative road with my attitude.’ But I think he deserved high marks for honesty.”

Surrounding the team with younger players: “But in any case, I think the more practical reason why the Buffalo Sabres are right now intent on trading Ryan O’Reilly is that the Sabres are trying to surround Eichel and Dahlin with, I think, younger players. Younger than 27, anyway, which is O’Reilly’s age.

“And I think a player of O’Reilly’s stature – he’s a top two line center in the National Hockey League, bonafide. And when you look at his productivity he’s really a guy that puts up some numbers every year – 20 goals, 50-60 points. He should be the type of guy that will fetch multiple pieces, and for what the Sabres are trying to do in terms of surrounding Eichel and Dahlin with players of similar age, this might be a good way to do it.

Who would be interested? “So I guess the next question is who’s interested in Ryan O’Reilly. The answer to that would be multiple teams. Everybody needs a center. But two that I would note in particular, so far anyways, would be the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens. Now, Carolina is looking to shake things up, there’s no doubt about that… As for the Canadiens, their need for a center is notable. And even before O’Reilly became ‘available,’ I know Ray Ferraro was doing a podcast earlier and mentioned what a natural fit O’Reilly would be on the Montreal Canadiens because they so desperately need help at the center ice position.”

What can O’Reilly go for? “So what might the Sabres expect to get or ask to get on Ryan O’Reilly? I understand teams interested in him are being told it would have to be very similar to the Mike Richards from Philadelphia to Los Angeles style of deal that was circa what, 2012. So it was six years ago. That year they traded Jeff Carter and Mike Richards – Carter to Columbus and Mike Richards to the Kings.

“Now, when Richards was traded back in 2012 to L.A., he was 26 years old at the time and the return for Richards from L.A. to Philly was a 22-year-old Wayne Simmonds, a 19-year-old Brayden Schenn – and keep in mind Brayden Schenn was a fifth overall pick in his draft year. Plus, in addition to Simmonds and Schenn, a second-round pick in that year’s draft.

“So I think the Sabres are kind of angling for that one really solid young player, one top-notch prospect – soon to be an NHL player, and a pretty significant pick – albeit it not necessarily a first-rounder. So that’s the going price, it would seem.

Contract: Now, there could be complications on trading for a guy like O’Reilly, positive and negative, as it applies to the likelihood of O’Reilly being dealt by the Sabres by the draft. On the negative side I would say there’s O’Reilly’s contract… His 2017-18 season was the second year of a seven-year deal that has an Average Annual Value or cap hit of $7.5 million. But it’s not so much the $7.5 million, or even the term of the deal that gets a little complicating for things – it’s the structure. It’s a heavily front end-loaded deal and it’s almost all in signing bonuses.

“So O’Reilly next season is scheduled to make $8.5 million… but $7.5 million of it is due as a signing bonus on July 1. And I would say trust me on this one: I don’t think the Carolina Hurricanes are too eager to jump into a deal where they have to shell out $7.5 million to Ryan O’Reilly on July 1. But that would appear to be the price of poker, as they like to say.”

Sabres plan on ROR: “So what I would suspect is that maybe the Sabres would have two prices out there for Ryan O’Reilly – maybe a pre-Tavares, a post-Tavares, or an early bird special. Ryan O’Reilly could be worth more to the Sabres once Tavares is signed somewhere, be it the Islanders or anywhere else, and all of those teams that had hoped to get Tavares but lost out on him – well, they’re still going to be looking for a center. So maybe in Buffalo there might be an early bird special at Chef’s in Buffalo on Ryan O’Reilly. Anyways, it is a percolating situation and I think one that we really need to keep an eye on.

Other players? “I’ll also be interested to see if the Sabres are going to get a lot of calls on Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen. Now, these guys aren’t as old as O’Reilly and they are younger ‘core pieces,’ and if you want to effect culture change, trading one of those guys might accomplish the same thing. But I don’t really have a sense yet on how eager the Sabres would be to move one or both of those guys. And I’d be curious to see what happens when somebody calls up and says, ‘We’re interested.’

“And as I said, I think the Sabres are all ears. I think they’re going to listen. That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily ready to push these guys out the door either.

“For what it’s worth, I know there was some speculative talk in the last few days that maybe the Edmonton Oilers were interested in Ristolainen. I’m not saying there will be or won’t be; but as near as I can tell based on the information I’ve got, I don’t believe there have been any talks in that regard.”

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