The off-ice dynamics between the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche were almost as interesting as the game between the two clubs last night (and it was an exciting game).
Early on Thursday, Calgary signed restricted free agent center Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year, $10M offer sheet. While the Flames were playing the Avs, Colorado announced they had matched the offer sheet.
While Colorado’s players might be excited to get one of the better young centers in the game back on the ice, this deal could ultimately lead to other players leaving Denver.
Looking ahead to 2014, the Avs have a front office nightmare building for a small market team.
O’Reilly’s new deal, which pays him $6.5M next season, expires during the same free agent summer as a collection of Avalanche players, notably including forwards Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie as well as netminder Semyon Varlamov.
From that group, Duchene, Landeskog and Varlamov will be restricted free agents, but are already making up nearly 20 percent of the Colorado cap number for the 2013-14 season. With Landeskog wearing the “C” in Colorado, he will certainly improve upon the $3.75M cap hit from his entry-level contract.
The Avs currently have only seven NHL roster players and five prospects under contract for the 2014-15 season, and have only $20.4M committed to the cap for that season.
But how much they will be comfortable spending is another matter. Even though Denver is a fantastic college hockey market, the Avs have been near the bottom of the league in attendance for the last few years (they rank 27th in the league in average attendance and percent of capacity so far this year).
Keeping O’Reilly helps the Avs on the ice now, but creates more headaches in the not-too-distant future for the franchise. It wouldn’t surprise if Stastny’s name re-appeared in trade rumors soon; he is the highest paid Avs player right now ($6.6M cap hit) and has just the one season left on his deal.
UPDATE: In an intriguing twist, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston is reporting that, because he played games in Russia after the lockout ended, O’Reilly would have needed to clear waivers to join the Flames if the Avs had let the center walk. The Flames could have lost draft picks to Colorado as compensation and O’Reilly to a waiver claim…