Ryan O'Reilly signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames but the Colorado Avalanche quickly matched. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
With the Colorado Avalanche matching the Calgary Flames offer sheet to restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly, so ends one of the most bizarre contract disputes in the history of the NHL.
So it should come as no surprise Flames GM Jay Feaster either misinterpreted the terms of the collective bargaining agreement or dropped the ball as though it was a greased pig when it came to the O’Reilly situation. From the start to the finish, this “negotiation” was marked with enough slapstick that it could have been used as a sketch on The Benny Hill Show. (If you don’t get that reference, ask your parents or Google it.)
It all starts with an emerging player coming off an entry-level deal asking for somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million a season, which is entirely his right. The team balks at the price, basically making him out to be the second coming of Bobby Schmautz during negotiations. But once it puts him on the trade market, he’s suddenly become Rocket Richard incarnate. Then the father of the player involved writes a rambling letter to the daily newspaper in Denver that everyone thinks has poisoned the situation to the point of no return.
Then when the Avalanche is basically backed into a corner and essentially forced to match Calgary’s offer sheet, Colorado GM Greg Sherman says with a straight face that the goal was always to sign O’Reilly and that it never, ever changed…except when they put him on the trade market.
(And by the way, if anyone can figure out what the Flames are doing with respect to roster building, please let us know immediately.)
Then things really get going. As first reported by Chris Johnston of sportsnet.ca, there’s a good chance the Flames would have lost both a first and third round pick for signing O’Reilly, then would have lost him because he was required to clear waivers before he could suit up with the Flames. It’s all very murky because of the fact that O’Reilly is documented to have played two games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL after the NHL season had started Jan. 18.
He’s actually on the scoresheet as having played 19:20 in a 2-1 loss to Ak Bars Kazan Jan. 21 and 15:41 in a 4-1 loss to Traktor Chelyabinsk Jan. 23. Perhaps the confusion came from the fact that he’s listed on the Metallurg roster as Rayan O Rayli. Really, you can’t make this stuff up.
As it turns out, under the old collective bargaining agreement, any player performing overseas had to clear waivers to play in the NHL, even for the team that owns his rights, if he plays a single game in another league. That is, of course, unless it’s Alexander Radulov, who was permitted to join the Nashville Predators just in time to hit last call at the bar in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Under the new CBA, the provision forcing a player to clear waivers after signing with the team that already owns his rights – as an RFA or if he’s under contract – has been removed. But he still would have had to clear waivers to play for Calgary, which likely would have meant he’d have been snapped up by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
When asked by THN.com to clarify the situation, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly responded in an email by saying, “I don’t want to get too far into this because it’s all academic at this point.” Which basically means it all would have caused a you-know-what storm of biblical proportions.
One GM contacted by THN.com had an interesting take on the situation. “That’s why every team has lawyers,” he said. “When you get all these lawyers together, they make things confusing because that keeps the meter running and justifies their existence. The more confusing they make it, the more they can stand up and say, ‘You need us.’ ”
Can’t argue with that logic. And when it comes to the comedy that was the O’Reilly Sweepstakes, it’s about the only thing that makes sense.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.