I hate to brag. No, that doesn’t sound right. How about this: I love to brag!
Weeks before Ryan O’Reilly became the “It” child for teams looking to salvage their 2012-2013 NHL season, I wrote a piece that identified O’Reilly as the sort of player the Sabres should consider pursuing if they were truly serious about contending for the Stanley Cup this year.
I thought the Sabres’ lack of a true number one center was a glaring concern, a deficiency so significant that the Sabres would have labeled fixing it their number one priority.
I was wrong, and now the Buffalo Sabres have pretty much guaranteed that they will not be major players in the scramble to acquire Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche.
People I have spoken to, and read, today have numerous theories as to why Buffalo should not be considered a true player in the O’Reilly sweepstakes. Some fans just feel Buffalo isn’t a glamorous enough location, or that it is not a large enough market and won’t provide as big spotlight for a young, budding star like Ryan O’Reilly. Others make the argument that Buffalo doesn’t have enough to offer Colorado in return for O’Reilly’s services. And others point out that the Sabres won’t touch him because of the reason Colorado is shopping this kid in the first place: his asking price of $5 million a year.
Good arguments, all of these . . . but they are not the biggest reason why Buffalo has doomed itself to being an irrelevant factor in the circus that is about to ensue. To me, the biggest reason the Sabres should consider themselves the extreme long shot to nab this kid is because they flat-out deluded themselves for far too long.
For whatever reasons, no one in the Sabres organization seemed too concerned about the fact that they had no true number one center heading into this season. As a matter of fact, it would seem that Darcy Regier, Terry Pegula, and Ted Black all felt like they had assembled a Stanley Cup contender, and didn’t need to consider shopping for parts. (Apparently, Steve Ott and John Scott were the pieces to the puzzle Buffalo had been missing all along – who knew?)
So they sat back, watched the Sabres stumble out of the gates, and waited until a handful of large-market and more “desirable” teams found themselves missing parts of their own, and now there is little to no chance of luring someone like O’Reilly to Buffalo.
To me, this is a case of an organization over-valuing itself. Coming into the season, most people thought Buffalo would make the playoffs based on the strength, not of its offense, but its defense and goaltending. Question marks have been surrounding the offense of the Sabres for some time now, and anyone who follows hockey wondered how well Buffalo would fare with no true top-line center. The results are in: the defense isn’t as good as advertised, and the offense is exactly as good as we thought, meaning it’s not good enough to win high-scoring contests. The offense has some holes to plug, and a two-way player like O’Reilly would be the perfect fit.
Had Buffalo been honest in its assessment of its roster, Ryan O’Reilly would have been on their radar weeks ago, which means they would have already started the process that other teams are just now initiating. There’s never any guarantees when it comes to these negotiations, but at least the Sabres would have had their foot in the door before teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, and Phoenix Coyotes came calling. Instead, they are just one more team vying for Ryan O’Reilly’s attention, and a team with less to offer Colorado than their competition, to boot.
Who knows how willing Colorado would have been to part with O’Reilly two or three weeks ago; it’s a moot point now. Heck, I don’t even know if Buffalo is seriously considering going after this kid anyway; I strongly feel they ought to, but if they were, they have waited too long to wake up and realize their ship is sinking, right up the middle. This kid could really be the player that helps the Sabres get over the hump this year, but my gut tells me the Sabres have outsmarted themselves right out of the picture.