The end of the 2013-2014 Colorado Avalanche campaign was heartbreaking, to say the least. Following their elimination in game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the team was left to ponder where they went wrong. After such a promising season, one that saw the emergence of budding superstar Nathan MacKinnon and new head coach Patrick Roy, the future complexion of this young team is relatively unknown.
Among the most pressing issues that the front office must now address is re-signing Ryan O’Reilly and/or Paul Stastny to long term deals. In a perfect world, they’d be able to re-sign both at discounted salaries. However, that’s just never how the business side of professional sports works. Realistically, it looks as though one, if not both, will test the free agency waters, potentially taking their talents elsewhere in 2014.
Stastny, 28, had a phenomenal regular season and an even better postseason. He picked up 25 goals, while adding 35 assists in 71 games played. However, his best hockey came in the playoffs, as he scored 5 goals and 5 assists in 7 games played. Not only was his play consistent, but timely as well. He scored both the game tying and game winning goals in game one. Often paired on a line with rookie sensation Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog, Stastny quickly became a centerpiece in the young group of Avalanche forwards.
O’Reilly also had a rather remarkable year. The natural center switched to left wing this season to accommodate the overabundance of young talent on the team. The transition didn’t seem to bother him, as he posted career numbers in almost every stat category. O’Reilly tallied 28 goals and 36 assists in 80 games played this season. He led the Avalanche in goals (28), power-play goals (9), and game winners (6).
Aside from his offensive firepower, O’Reilly enforced his defensive prowess and led the league in takeaways, with 82. He’s been nominated for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, an honor awarded to the player judged to have the most sportsmanlike conduct, while also maintaining a high level of play. He is a favorite for the hardware after posting only two penalty minutes all year. Like Stastny, he also carried his momentum right into the playoffs, finishing third on the team in postseason points.
In regards to the ongoing contract negotiations, the Stastny side of the equation has been going much more smoothly than the O’Reilly fiasco. Although Stastny could potentially command more money on the open market, the unrestricted free agent has already hinted at taking a hometown discount to stay with Colorado. If Stastny is able to resign with the Avalanche, look for his contact to be a multi-year deal around $6 million per season. This would be great news for the Avalanche, as he is still fairly young and a very talented two-way center.
The aforementioned fiasco, involving contract discussions between O’Reilly and the team, has been just that. Colorado has officially filed for club-elected salary arbitration over his $6.5 million contract. It was a move considered by some to have brewed a batch of bad blood between the team and O’Reilly. Hopefully, it won’t be the beginning of the end for #90 in Colorado.
If, by some chance, the team wins the hearing, O’Reilly could elect to sign a one or two year contract and would make a minimum of $5.525 million per season. Although the Avalanche might not consider him worthy of his hefty asking price, his value skyrockets when considering the fact that he has excelled at both center and left wing. O’Reilly is ripe with offensive talent, stout with defensive poise, and is only 23 years young.
Once the July 1st deadline rolls around, the chance to re-sign either player may be lost. The Avalanche need to make sure that at least one of the two is back in burgundy and blue next season. If both leave, Colorado will be hard pressed to recreate one of their best campaigns in franchise history.
Check out game 1’s game-tying goal from Stastny below: