It appears one of the NHL's most intriguing negotiations of the offseason will reach its conclusion this week in an arbitration hearing set for Wednesday. The Colorado Avalanche went the route of team-elected salary arbitration with young center Ryan O'Reilly, a rare and possibly relationship-damaging practice to reach a contract agreement.
The two sides have not been able to come to terms and don't appear likely to do so before Wednesday.
In team-elected arbitration, which is a practice teams can utilize to seek what amounts to a pay cut against what they would have had to extend as a qualifying offer, the lowest contract figure O'Reilly can get out of this hearing is $5.525 million. That would be 85 percent of his actual salary from last season which came in at $6.5 million.
With the hearing set 48 hours from Monday, both parties were required to submit paperwork to the arbitrator to detail what they are seeking through the hearing, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.
O'Reilly, as you could probably have already figured out, has no desire in taking a pay cut. According to Ken Campbell of the Hockey News, O'Reilly's camp has submitted a request of $6.75 million, electing to take a one-year award as is the player's right as the party being filed against.
The Avalanche are obviously going with the lowest amount possible at $5.525 million according to Campbell. The club probably doesn't view that offer as a pay cut despite the fact that O'Reilly made $6.5 million last season as part of the two-year, $10 million offer sheet he signed with the Calgary Flames during the 2012-13 season. The Avalanche matched the deal that paid O'Reilly an annual average of $5 million.
This is one of those instances where you can see both sides of the argument pretty clearly. That's what makes this such a tough negotiation to figure out and making a concrete determination regarding O'Reilly's actual value.
O'Reilly is seeking a raise from the wage he made last season, during which he had the best performance of his career. The 23-year-old center notched career bests with 28 goals and 64 points. He was the league's least penalized player despite playing a more rugged style, winning the Lady Byng Award, and is an ace at both ends of the ice.
On the other hand, the Avalanche can look at deals around the league and at O'Reilly's total body of work and not see a player worth $6.75 million, and can build a compelling case
What complicates this situation further is that O'Reilly electing for a one-year deal will keep him a restricted free agent after next season, which means it could be start from scratch next summer and the player could have a more compelling case for a long-term, big-money deal. The question is whether or not it's too late by then. Should this contract scuffle create any bad blood, and that certainly can happen in the often ruthless arbitration hearings, O'Reilly could want out of town sooner than later.
As it appears unlikely the two sides will reach an agreement before Wednesday's hearing, it will be awfully interesting to see how the arbitrator views this case and how much O'Reilly is worth.
Considering the Avalanche have already lost Paul Stastny to free agency, the desire to keep center depth in O'Reilly should be a priority. That's even with Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon coming into their own as budding stars at center. In the tough Western Conference, maintaining that strength down the middle will be key. This week is a rather big one for the future of the organization.