Aside from selecting Rasmus Dahlin, Jason Botterill has quite the to-do list this summer and deciding to deal Ryan O’Reilly will likely serve as the flash point for the rest of Botterill’s maneuvering this offseason.
This isn’t just because there are a multitude of suitors who have been connected to O’Reilly in recent weeks. But because the potential ask and return has been as varied as the teams being connected to the center. The roster will look a whole lot different if Botterill obtains the third overall pick as opposed to receiving a package of players and prospects for O’Reilly. Thus, Botterill’s actions will be shaped by what he receives for O’Reilly in the coming days – if he’s moved at all.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle in dealing O’Reilly is finding adequate cover for all the things he offers to the Sabres. For all the complaints about his lack of speed, O’Reilly remains an incredibly effective centerman. He eats minutes against difficult competition with nearly 60% of his starts coming in the defensive zone at even strength. Through all of that he manages to have a positive relative impact on his teammates and maintains a quality and consistent level of offensive production.
There are few players around the league who could step in and fill O’Reilly’s role, meaning if he is traded, Botterill will have his hands full in filling O’Reilly’s very large shoes. That doesn’t mean the Sabres shouldn’t move O’Reilly, his skill set alone makes him an incredibly valuable trade chip and whatever locker room issues are at play add another layer to moving him. There will be a trickle down on the roster once he’s moved though, make no mistake about that.
It appears as if Montreal is the only club capable of offering a draft pick valuable enough to eliminate any other considerations from a deal. Even still, most reports make it seem iffy that the third overall pick is truly available. So it seems likely to me that the Sabres will wind up with a package from whichever team they ultimately deal with for O’Reilly. Whether or not it’s part of the return or not, finding coverage for their do everything center will be a key factor.
Elias Lindholm’s name has surfaced in rumors lately and he’s probably the best example of a player who would start to offer some coverage for O’Reilly. From the players whose names are being floated, at least. Lindholm wouldn’t come close to covering all of what O’Reilly does, but he does have some favorable underlying numbers and at 23 years old, offers a fair bit of upside.
I use Lindholm as an example here because he’s one of the few players who seems available in trade rumors who would begin to offer the Sabres some coverage for losing O’Reilly while also serving as part of a larger package to begin filling other holes on the roster. Ideally the Sabres would also pull Justin Faulk out with the deal, giving themselves another high-quality right-handed defenseman, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
Things look much different if you look at the rumors connected to the Canadiens where the third pick has been mentioned along with Max Pacioretty and pretty much every other asset in Montreal’s system. Dealing for the third pick gives the Sabres another player who likely steps into the lineup on day one, but leaves quite a few other holes left to fill. Receiving a package that involves some combination of bodies – be that Pacioretty, Victor Mete or Noah Juulsen, Arturri Lehkonen, etc. – would go a long way towards injecting talent in various areas of the roster, but leaves the center position without a major contributor.
You can spin yourself in circles with the other 30 teams if you want to. The bottom line is that the return in a potential O’Reilly deal will set the course for the rest of the offseason. If a quality center comes back, Botterill’s focus can be on finding talent on the wings and rounding out the blueline, whereas fetching help away from center means a fair bit of energy will be devoted to providing cover for Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt.
Jason Botterill may also opt to keep O’Reilly. That too sets a path where the center position is tied up nicely with three quality contributors with the preexisting holes left to address.