Alright, I'll Bite | Tell me more about Colorado Avalanche center, Ryan O'Reilly >

by Michael DeNicola

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 -

Let's break this bitch wide open; Around 12-hours ago, RDS hockey journalist Renaud Lavoie reported that the Flyers kicked the tires on Colorado Avalanche restricted free agent, Ryan O'Reilly. 

If you don't know the whole situation, here it is -- O'Reilly is a 22yr old centerman who was taken by the Avs back in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at 33rd overall, and signed to a 3-year ELC. O'Reilly immediately made the NHL roster after putting in a great performance in camp prior to the 2009-10 season beginning. Just after this past 2011-12 season, Ryan's ELC expired and he's looking to make the big bucks on his next contract, which the Avalanche have hesitated agreeing to. Thus, the restricted free agent hasn't played a single minute in this abbreviated 2013 season. He's holding out, asking for $5m/year.

Getting back to Renaud's report, Colorado's asking for Sean Couturier in return, but the terms don't stop there. Avalanche GM Greg Sherman also demands a top prospect, or a first or second round draft pick. 

The question after the smoke clears is simple; Is Ryan O'Reilly worth the $5m/year that he wants, and is he worth Couturier-plus in return?

Before diving into incredibly deep analysis, let's ask ourselves why the Avs haven't given Ryan O'Reilly the money he's looking for. Let's also ask ourselves why no other team has (reportedly) slipped him an offer sheet worth what he's asking. 

Right there, that ought to tell us something.

O'Reilly has only played three NHL seasons, and in that time he's failed to tally 20+ goals in a single year. His best season came in 2011-12 where he jumped to the Avalanche's first line, scoring 18-goals and totaling 55-points. 

So, five-million dollars to a first line center who hasn't even proven astronomical offensive numbers? Yes, that's something to gaff at. Other than Ryan and his parents, no one seems to believe O'Reilly's worth his own demanding price. But is potential, alone, worth all that cash per season?

This is where heavy-loaded statistical data can be applied to develop an argument for O'Reilly's self-righteous appeal. 

For starters, Ryan is only 22-years old who's gotten progressively better with each season played. Especially last season when he put in his best performance through his short tenure. At 22-years of age, hockey players tend to be cracking their respective NHL rosters. O'Reilly has collected NHL experience and he's a year or two out from entering his prime. 

What's best about Ryan's skillset is that he's a two-way player with incredible defensive-offensive talent, and is used all over the ice in every single situation. For instance, in 81-games played in 2011-12, O'Reilly started 50 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, 50 per cent in the defensive zone in 5-on-5 situations. 50.1 per cent of those shifts ended in the offensive zone. To give you equal perspective, Sean Couturier in 2011-12 started 59.7 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone while finishing them in the offensive zone only 45.4 per cent of the time. Obviously this lets us know that Couturier is given heavy-lifted minutes in our end, as opposed to O'Reilly who is used much more universally. 

Yes, I'm using Corsi data provided by The problem with using this type of analytical information is that you'll never find a definite answer. Hockey never happens in a vacuum, all statistics are relative to the talents around you and against you. Corsi data keenly attempts to make up for that principle, but it still leaves a lot of calculations open to interpretation. 

[For a broader definition of Corsi data and terms, visit Hockey Prospectus' glossary page]

I only explain all that so you take any Corsi data I list with a grain of salt. For example, O'Reilly may score higher in one form of Corsi than Couturier based on relative data from teammates and opponents, however there's no arguing that Couturier played -- and still plays -- in a much, MUCH more talented Division of rival Clubs than O'Reilly has. That, in itself, is the reason so many franchises are interested in Couturier in return for any of their younger talents.

Let's get back on track. 

As I was saying, it's not all offensive numbers with Ryan O'Reilly. The kid led the League with 101 takeaways in 2011-12 (roughly 1.25 TA/Gm), and only forked over the puck 34 times. That takeaway/turnover ratio is astounding, and you have to keep reminding yourself that he's only 22-years old. These numbers will get even better.

On top of his takeaways, O'Reilly threw 62-hits and blocked 50-shots (ranked 49th in BS among NHL forwards in 2011-12). The kid's a banger and throws his body in front of the rubber. What's best about his defensive game is that it's disciplined, having taken only 23-minor penalties in 236-NHL games played. Turn that around, O'Reilly averages almost one drawn penalty (0.8) per 60-minutes throughout his career. That's not 60-minutes of his personal ice-time, that's just 60-minutes of game-time where he's an active starter.

FYI, in the 2011-12 regular season, Couturier averaged 0.9 drawn penalties per 60-minutes with 4-minutes less of average on-ice time, and four less games-played than Ryan. Both players show promise in this category, but Couturier's got the edge over O'Reilly. 

While I'm throwing out stats, note that Ryan took 31.3 per cent of Colorado's faceoffs last season, winning 52.8 per cent of them. Whether it's in the offensive or defensive zones, there's a better chance your Club's going to gain possession off the faceoff circle with O'Reilly scraping the dot. Couturier managed to win only 47 per cent of his faceoffs in 2011-12, but abiding by my law of interpretation, and in defense to Couturier, he wasn't taking anywhere close to 31.3 per cent of Philadelphia's faceoffs. 

Here's one more piece of comparable Corsi data; In 2011-12, Couturier scored just a fraction higher in Corsi (plus-0.174) relative to the average quality of his competition. What does this mean?

Corsi is essentially a plus-minus statistic that measures shot attempts. A player receives a plus for any shot attempt (on net, missed, or blocked) that his team directs at the opponent's net, and a minus for any shot attempt against his own net. A proxy for possession. [definition's source]

Couturier scoring plus-0.174 higher than the competition he faces just lets us know that when he's on the ice, Sean has a slight edge on his average opponents in pucks put on net. 

O'Reilly scores a plus-0.464 in this tier. 

Not an enormous difference, but it's only there to paint a more detailed expectation. And, once again, we're comparing a first line center in O'Reilly to a (then) third/fourth line center in Couturier. 

So, could all of this tireless information prove nothing when both players are compared to each other? Yes and no. There is no definitive answer, it's all liquid. If you nitpick hard enough, you'll either cipher something positive that'll make the player look like a second-coming of Gretzky, or something negative that'll make them look like another Pavel Brendl.

Both Couturier and O'Reilly are unbelievably talented young skaters. Sean Couturier, with just one full NHL season under his belt, has already established that he has gross amounts of future success staring him straight in the face. I know it, you know it. Every Club's general manager knows it, which is why Sean is the nucleus behind every one of these kinds of potential deals.

Could the Flyers use another top line, two-way center with success on the faceoff, putting his body on the line, progressing his offensive numbers and maintaining outstanding defensive output? Yes. Every single team in the League can use that type of player. There's no arguing that Ryan O'Reilly would fit into the Flyers system. But at what cost?

O'Reilly would certainly never man the center position from the top line. That is -- and always will be -- Claude Giroux's helm. The second line center position seems to be more up for grabs these days than roofies in a frat house. However, we've got players like Briere, Brayden Schenn and Couturier platooning that space continually until coach Peter Laviolette quits shuffling the deck. 

Is $5-million per year what we want to spend on a second line center? It's bad enough that the 36-year old Danny Briere is carrying a $6.5-million average annual value against our cap for two more seasons. Not to mention, players like Giroux, Matt Read, B. Schenn, Tye McGinn, and Andrej Meszaros will be looking for considerable pay-raises in the coming League Years, and by then we won't know what the salary cap ceiling may be (all dependent on the League's HRR for that year). 

Let's take a big step back and remind ourselves what else Colorado is asking for, besides Sean Couturier. They're looking for either a top prospect, or a draft pick in the first or second round. 

The Philadelphia Flyers best prospects have already graduated to the NHL level; Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Erik Gustafsson, Matt Read. They're no longer prospects, they're roster players. Our remaining top prospects are (C) Scott Laughton, (LW) Eric Wellwood, (D) Shayne Gostisbehere, (D) Brandon Manning, (C) Jason Akeson, (C) Matt Mangene, (D) Oliver Lauridsen, and (LW) Marcel Noebels.

[I purposely left (C) Nick Cousins off that list because of all the litigation that lies ahead for the young lad. If you recall, Nick got himself in quite a bit of trouble with a sexual assault charge over the summer of 2012. It's yet to be seen whether Cousins will spend any time in jail, so I cannot fathom any NHL GM throwing a flyer on the kid in a trade. I have nothing further to say about this development.] 

According to analysis, the Flyers have some above-average prospects, but nothing that could be labeled as top tier. Maybe Scott Laughton, but he doesn't come close to O'Reilly's offensive numbers when O'Reilly was skating in the CHL. 

Acquiring O'Reilly would more than likely cost our organization Sean Couturier, one of our above-average  prospects, and possibly a mid-round draft pick. 

I dunno. With everything I've listed (and I'm sure there's plenty more I missed), I can't see this being more than a very expensive lateral move. Is O'Reilly better than Couturier? Look, I don't know. But Couturier sure as shit doesn't cost us $5-million a season like O'Reilly would. 

Both skaters are developing quickly. Both are terrific defensive-offensemen. But at this point in time, I'd have to turn down the offer from Colorado. There's just too many roosters in the coop, and by that I mean we have plenty of centers, most of them young, with loads of two-way playing potential. 

O'Reilly will make one hell of an asset on the team he finally settles with. And who knows, maybe one day we'll be kicking ourselves for not completing this transaction. But right now, our organization is taking a path rich with youthful potential and building our prospect system through the Draft.

I will say this, though; It's a tad odd that Tye McGinn was a healthy scratch in yesterday's 7 - 0 win over the Brooklyn Islanders. No one from upper management disclosed him nursing an injury of any kind. And he's been quite valuable from the second and third line combinations. 

Twitter's already had its field day speculating whether Tye's part of a deal to acquire O'Reilly. 

Boy, to be a fly on Paul Holmgren's wall....

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