The Devils Should Trade for Ryan O’Reilly

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On February 28th, the trade freeze lifts on Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly. There is a trade freeze because the Avalanche matched the Calgary Flames’ offer sheet last February 28th. All salary cap information is from CapGeek.com.

 Why the Devils Should Do It:

This franchise has an antiquated notion of how to build a team. There is nothing wrong with building from the goal crease out and drafting accordingly, but the vision of winning every game 1-0 or 2-1, and scraping together offense, is what made the Devils successful pre-salary cap era. Building from the goal crease out still means addressing your forward situation eventually.

The following has resulted from poor drafting: Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, and untimely departures like Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and David Clarkson. The Devils are threadbare when it comes to difference-maker forwards. Moreover, re-signing limited impact players to franchise-player deals (Travis Zajac) is not an answer to goal scoring. Nor is throwing a lot of money at old, power forwards who have serious injury histories and have looked painfully slow at times (Ryane Clowe).

There has been a salary cap for close to a decade now, and New Jersey’s defense-first identity has begun to grow long in the tooth, much like their long-tenured general manager.

The two best forwards this year for the Devils have been Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias, who are both great players, but their combined age is 78. That is an average age of 39! And both are near their birthdays, which means by the end of the regular season their combined age will be 80.

After those two, it gets a little more debatable, but Adam Henrique would be in the conversation, as would Dainius Zubrus. Adam Henrique is soon-to-be 24 years old, but Zubrus is 35. And Michael Ryder, the team’s one-dimensional leading goal scorer, who is soon-to-be 34, should also be mentioned.

Once you examine the core, it’s hard to believe this team will fare well down the stretch, especially with many of its old veterans playing in Sochi. This is a graybeard team, with scarce young talent. The Devils should be falling all over themselves to get a 22-year-old, two-way power forward center like O’Reilly — even if it means conceding some big pieces.

It would mean parting with Andy Greene, likely their best defenseman, and Jagr, by far their best forward this season. But a closer look at the Devils’ roster quickly reveals that they have some defensive depth. They could lose Greene and still maintain a high-end defensive unit.

So far, young bloods Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas have showed tremendous promise, Marek Zidlicky has been his wily, puck-moving self, and Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador have looked serviceable. Mark Fayne is steady. Peter Harrold can come in and be adequate when used in a third-pairing role. And in the pipeline, the Devils’ two best prospects – Steven Santini and Damon Severson – are both defensemen.

While Adam Larsson is toiling in Albany with the Devils’ AHL affiliate, it is still unclear what you have with him. Up to this date, it seems grainy whether he will translate into a top-four defenseman. Potential is evident in the tools that made him a fourth overall pick, but he still is so raw in many areas. He is about to become an RFA, so trying to see as much of him as possible on the professional level is an important responsibility. (He has already played well over 100 games in the NHL, so any difficulties he has returning would likely be due to limited upside rather than trouble re-acclimating.)

The Devils’ ultra-conservative offense squeezes the life out of any pace or tempo, especially in the neutral zone, and could endure a defenseman leaving, even one as good as Greene. They also have a goaltender they thought highly enough of that they traded a ninth overall pick for him, and Corey Schneider could make do with a few extra shots a game.

New Jersey is first in the NHL in shots against, so it could very likely hold steady defensively while getting a forward who could actually fill the number one center role. And they need that so, so badly. The Devils personify the saying that you can coach defense, but you cannot coach goal scoring. At some point, you need players with actual skill who can find the net and create scoring chances. O’Reilly accomplishes that.

Why the Avalanche Should Do It:

They should do it because Andy Greene would instantly become their best defenseman – he is better than Erik Johnson – and with Jagr, they would be adding one of the best players of all time to a roster full of talented young forwards. Surely, you have read one of the countless stories about Jagr’s impact on young players and how his tutelage helped them develop. His mentoring of talented, still-developing forwards is legendary.

For players like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon — forwards who have ceilings that are already sky high — Jagr could help push them along that superstar track. And it is not exactly like Jagr is playing passive, rec- league hockey these days. His statistics are gaudy in goals, assists, and shots on goal, along with his advanced statistics. He is not O’Reilly but, even now, he can probably bring 80 percent of what O’Reilly brings to the forward position, maybe more.

More importantly, with Greene, the Avalanche would be adding a defenseman for the playoff run who is better than anyone the team has right now. Greene is the most underrated defenseman in the NHL at the moment. He is a skilled, puck-moving defender with great decision-making skills, strong defensive acumen, prolific playmaking, and a very impressive ability to stifle and disrupt opposing offenses. As important as it would be for the Devils to re-sign O’Reilly if they trade for him, it would be equally important that the Avalanche re-sign Greene.

Jagr is a UFA this summer and Greene will be the following summer and neither has a no-trade clause. O’Reilly is a RFA this summer, and this would allow the Avalanche to re-sign Paul Stastny while working to extend Greene. The Devils and Avalanche are in opposite conferences so they would only see each other twice a year. Furthermore, Jagr’s AAV is $4M and Greene’s is $3M, and the swap for O’Reilly would mean $2M off their cap space, with Jagr’s contract set to expire at the end of the season. Colorado is reducing their cap space temporarily, but would still have sufficient cap space to ink Greene and Stastny this offseason.

This trade would reshape both teams in a way that makes sense for this season and for these franchises going forward. It is a win-win.

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