Leafs Asset Management and Ryan O'Reilly

Gus Katsaros
February 24 2013 02:08PM

Fans of a lot of different NHL clubs claim their team could use Ryan O’Reilly the most. I think the Toronto Maple Leafs are at the top of that list. ROR in this instance means more than just rate of return. It’s a potential perfect fit. I believe he is the most logical fit between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.

Rob Vollman did the statistical breakdown for the restricted free agent so there’s no point in duplicating the work but it’s a good overall look.

This is Ryan O’Reilly’s writeup as it appeared in the McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook:

Cerebral two-way forward with understated skill and tenacity .. hands are quick and skilled, arms strong and co-ordinated .. good passer both forehand and backhand .. not an elegant or explosive skater – more economical and steady .. turns and cuts are efficient .. stellar positioning is a particular strong point, powered by excellent anticipation and hockey sense .. in the right place doing the right thing .. protects the puck utilizing a strong center of balance – knows how to use his body to gain a positional edge in 1-on-1 battles .. elevates his intensity and strength to suit the occasion .. early, solid stick placement also feeds his game .. does miss a mean streak though .. could do a better job of sticking up for himself at times as opponents are increasingly taking liberties .. jumped from 72 takeaways - eighth overall  in '10-11 to 101 to lead the NHL in ’11-12 .. produced consistently through the middle part of the season (41-14-24-38) before slowing down the stretch, playing the final weeks despite a fractured nose – and no visor.<1--mor

 This highlight package shows some of those skills mentioned above. The takeaways number is impressive on its own and falls under the description of his overall intensity. He is a tenacious forechecker and quick to cut down space.

The acquisition costs will be expensive. It’s not often a talented player his age is available, but it comes at a steep price. The likeliness of several suitors emerging also keep the acquisition floor high, setting the price solely in the hands of the Avalanche who can pick through multiple offers and maximize their return.

O’Reilly has clearly emerged as a competent first line center, while I would categorize him as a second tier first liner. First tier centers, the Malkins, Crosbys and Kopitars of the NHL are extremely difficult and expensive to acquire, while the second tier are less expensive, but come with a lesser overall elite skill set.

O’Reilly has the work ethic and skill set to be a good compliment to scoring wingers, playing responsible in all zones and capable of chipping in creating scoring chances.

Two pieces need to come together in order for a trade for ROR to make sense, however. One is having an option on the first line left wing signed long term.

What makes O’Reilly such a perfect fit are the requirements of players he would likely be lining up with every night. If Tyler Bozak can thrive (if you can call it that) on the first line, an immediate upgrade would solidify the trio, minimizing defensive risk. He can battle as Bozak does for loose pucks and is more defensively aware.

Between Kessel and Lupul, the responsible and aware O’Reilly allows for the two scorers to freewheel and create scoring chances. I feel this is a vital element that initially won Tyler Bozak the first line center role over free agent signing, Tim Connolly.

This is assuming James van Riemsdyk doesn’t usurp first line left-wing spot and pushes Lupul to the second unit. JVR is having a hell of a debut season in Leafs silks, but when you’re putting together a roster, it’s about balance and maximizing complimentary skill sets. Two scoring lines spreads that balance and opposition can’t key in on specific players during game play.

JVR is a perfect option for that second line left wing spot, despite the early season success on the first line (and PDO of 1039). His scoring comes from net presence, so as long as he keeps heading to scoring areas and has someone to feed him pucks close to the goal, he will find success. That flexibility is a nice little bonus.

I don’t feel Lupul is the defensive liability as described in some corners, but he isn’t winning any Frank Selkes any time soon. This is beyond the scope of this writing, but I offer every event that made up Lupul’s possession numbers from 2011-12. My unscientific viewings of about a couple dozen random events throughout the season don’t all necessarily attribute the negatives directly to Lupul. Some do, blatantly. Some bad decisions, misplays, turnover or giveaway – or lack of second effort – didn’t end up in a recorded event.

O’Reilly would help stem Lupul’s defensive shortcomings as a derivative asset. Lupul is signed long term.

The other is Phil Kessel. Before committing to pay the price of acquisition, certain elements need to be locked up .. long term.

That’s when the drums starting beating.

 

TIMING OF ‘KESSEL WANTS TO STAY’ REPORTS

Toronto can’t begin formal talks about a contract extension until July 1st with their potential unrestricted free agent. This, amid chatter regarding trading the sniper while in his prime.

A deal for O’Reilly without the possibility of locking up Kessel is highly unlikely, especially considering the assets likely to move the other way.

 

Enter Wade Arnott.

“Phil (Kessel) is still a really young man,” Arnott told theSportsNet Fan590. “He really enjoys living in Toronto and playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs

“This young man lives and breathes hockey. He was very excited to come here four years ago. I think if you asked Phil today, he’d love to finish his career here in Toronto. But it’s still young in his career right now.”

Breaking down the series of events starting with the endorsement to stay from his agent.

February 13, 2013: Kessel’s agent publicly indicated his client’s sincerest desire to be a “Leaf for life’ that made ripples everywhere.

The very next day, Valentine’s Day no less, Darren Dreger publicly proclaimed how the Leafs “would love to get their hands on Ryan O’Reilly” via a tweet by TSN1050 twitter feed.

This is tricky. Toronto has a keen eye on making the playoffs in this shortened season, yet could use a player like O’Reilly. Gardiner is playing in the minors, as if he wasn’t a part of the current unit vying to make a run for a playoff spot. 

This next tweet leads me to believe that the wheels are definitely in motion for a deal, should there be a possibility. I’ll expand on this shortly.

The potential for moving a first line center, second tier or not, is a blockbuster.

Then Adrian Dater (take with a grain of salt) indicated how the Avs are not interested in another center for O’Reilly, incorrectly stated in the Lyle Richardson speculation piece. The word ‘offensive’ never made it into the tweet.

On the broadcast between Colorado and St Louis the commentators implied the Avalanche were able to trade away Kevin Shattenkirk due to having Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie warming in the bullpen in Lake Erie. They cited Elliott’s junior career, especially as a goal scorer.

This, after acquiring Erik Johnson in the trade that hasn’t worked out as planned, primarily due to the expectations placed upon a first overall draft pick.

Dater’s comments are essentially moot. He’s misunderstanding asset management.

Where’s the disconnect? If, as Dater believes, an offensive defenseman and a pick is the starting point, where does that leave Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott and Erik Johnson? It would likely precipitate another transaction to move one of the above blueliners.

Maybe even in the same deal involving O’Reilly which would turn that into a monster deal.

Johnson is locked in long term, while Elliott and Barrie are restricted free agents at the end of 2013-14.

A quick look at Barrie’s underlying numbers are pretty good in comparison to the quality of competition blossoming into a fairly good puck mover.

Meanwhile, Stefan Elliott struggled offensively in the AHL, despite his puck rushing abilities; he’s turning into a two-way rather than strictly puck-moving defenseman, a far cry from scoring 82 goals as a junior defenseman.

The Avs asking price justifies the importance in having a wealth of currency in the form of offensive, puck rushing/moving defensemen.

Should the other requirement be a first round pick, the underlying currency value of that pick (above the base currency described in this NHL Draft study) would make it restrictive in the lush 2013 draft. It’s a deal killer in my opinion.

The Leafs have currency in Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly and to a degree Matt Finn for the future. Gardiner, according to Dreger is a borderline untouchable.

OPTIONS

I won’t get into the offer sheet debate here. I feel the offer sheet would be matched regardless of any argument indicating that it would not.

The Leafs do have options however. If the price is just too prohibitive, they can play out the season with what they have in place or search for alternatives. Barring any signing prior to the trade deadline pending free agent the 27-year old Ryan Getzlaf is an example. There is more that is unannounced publicly regarding possibilities of players being available and teams also sour on players as circumstances play out. There’s no need to make any rash decisions based on public information only. Consider the quiet before the Dion Phaneuf trade.

Getzlaf as an unrestricted free agent would be more expensive, but I don’t think the gulf would be that much more considering the rumored $5 million AAV O’Reilly’s camp is seeking.

Comparing 2011-12 numbers alone, among centers that played more than 40 games, Getzlaf was 10th in Corsi relative, measuring the differential between corsi on/off the ice. Bozak ranked 112th (-4.9).

Following that up into this season, Getzlaf is ranked 54th (14.5) among centers that have dressed in 10 games or more with an incredible 13.98 on ice shooting percentage and a fairly high PDO (1073). Take the sample size into consideration here. Bozak is ranked 72nd (0.5) with an on-ice shooting percentage of 6.54 and 1009 PDO.

Getzlaf would improve offensive creativity when one of the linemates is struggling, a point I tried to make during Kessel’s scoring struggles. Upgrading offensive skills should potentially cut down scoring slumps.

Tyler Bozak inherited center by default and over his head, but his surrounding wingers can carry him for the remainder of this season, should that be the way this all plays out. He’s obviously not the permanent option.

What is the permanent option? Do the Leafs shed assets to acquire the second tier first line center that may be the best fit overall, following the philosophy of putting bodies into roster spots, or do they move on in the hopes of signing an expensive free agent that is five years older, or even pursue other opportunities?

There has to be a plan B.

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Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator for McKeen's Hockey. Follow him on twitter @KatsHockey or his blog Kats Krunch at mckeenshockey.com
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#1 mclotty
February 24 2013, 04:13PM
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How can the leafs afford 6.5M for Phaneuf, 5.5M for Grabbo, 5.25M for lupul and potentially 7.5M for kessel along with 5M for ROR. This team will look like NYR - lots of nice talent (nash, gaborik, lundquivst, richards etc) and then lots of plugs because they can't afford to sign kadri, gardiner gunnar etc when those contracts come due.

I like ROR but unless Lupul or Grabbo are dealt things get ugly for the leafs in future.

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#2 Topshelf
February 24 2013, 10:17PM
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@mclotty

It's possible O'Reilly "settles" for $4.5 million, which would put the five Leafs you mentioned basically costing the same as the four Rangers you mentioned.

With $17 million in cap room next season we could easily add O'Reilly. Possibly we amnesty Komisarek and perhaps even Liles giving us more room. Kadri will get a raise as will Gunnarsson and Franson but Steckel and Bozak are gone. All in all we have lots of room and flexibility.

At the end of the day we have a decent group of forwards with some really good talent, but adding O'Reilly who is SO GOOD at BOTH ends of the ice and SO YOUNG is a no brainer. As long as the price isn't too steep in terms of assets we should get a deal done. He's basically exactly what this team needs up front and would fit beautifully between Kessel and Lupul(or JVR). He would also immediately be one of our best forwards.

Rolling........

Lupul-O'Reilly-Kessel MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin JVR-Kadri-Frattin

..........would be an outsanding top nine.

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#3 Mironovs Nose
February 25 2013, 06:16AM
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How does Cody Franson's play this season change the Leafs trade options? Does he make Gardiner more tradeable, or would Franson be a player the Leafs would move?

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#4 Gus
February 25 2013, 08:56AM
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Mironovs Nose wrote:

How does Cody Franson's play this season change the Leafs trade options? Does he make Gardiner more tradeable, or would Franson be a player the Leafs would move?

I'd say none of the above. there's a small correlation there, but not of any significance.

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#5 Jeff
February 25 2013, 09:33AM
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Nice thoughtful analysis.

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#6 Jeff
February 25 2013, 09:35AM
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Topshelf wrote:

It's possible O'Reilly "settles" for $4.5 million, which would put the five Leafs you mentioned basically costing the same as the four Rangers you mentioned.

With $17 million in cap room next season we could easily add O'Reilly. Possibly we amnesty Komisarek and perhaps even Liles giving us more room. Kadri will get a raise as will Gunnarsson and Franson but Steckel and Bozak are gone. All in all we have lots of room and flexibility.

At the end of the day we have a decent group of forwards with some really good talent, but adding O'Reilly who is SO GOOD at BOTH ends of the ice and SO YOUNG is a no brainer. As long as the price isn't too steep in terms of assets we should get a deal done. He's basically exactly what this team needs up front and would fit beautifully between Kessel and Lupul(or JVR). He would also immediately be one of our best forwards.

Rolling........

Lupul-O'Reilly-Kessel MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin JVR-Kadri-Frattin

..........would be an outsanding top nine.

Outstanding, except for the decline of MacArthur/Kulemin #NeverWereOutstanding and the inexperience of JVR-Kadri-Frattin #SmallSampleSizeAlert ..

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#7 Topshelf
February 25 2013, 11:22PM
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@Jeff

I never said Kulemin/MacArthur were outstanding. I said as a group that top nine would be. Perhaps outstanding was a strong word, but they would be very good.

Geez, Thanks for trying to keep my exuberance in check and anyone using # is the coolest.

Kulemin is playing good two way hockey, on pace for 49 points, playing brutally tough minutes and getting a ridiculous amount of defensive zone starts (almost 70%).

As for the comments on the youngsters I don't expect them to keep up their current pace, but everything Kadri has done previously at the AHL level indicates he could/should be a good NHL player and so far he he's played well this season. His talent and skill level are obvious. At such a young age he should get better and has solid upside. It may not translate into higher production than what he's currently producing but doing it under tougher competition should be expected. Players often improve from what they can do at 22 years old, you know that right?

JVR has already proven he can produce fairly well at the NHL level scoring 40 points and over 20 goals in 75 games two years back (at 21) and was on a better pace last season, shortened by injury. This was done on the 3rd line with relatively limited minutes. He's 23 years old has a load of talent, he should also get better and has very good upside. It's not like they guys are coming out of nowhere.

Kessel has proven he can produce at elite offensive levels with inferior linemates for years. Adding a 22 year old center who is a big upgrade in talent and defensive prowess over Bozak should only help....... a lot.

As a top nine they are a fairly young group and several players have a healthy upside. I'd say they could be very good. Maybe in a moment of giddiness I'd call them outstanding.

Thanks for your insight.

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#8 Greg P
February 27 2013, 01:36AM
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If the leafs want ROR that's great but, is he really the best option?

Personally I would prefer a player like Getzlaf. He has a ring, has worked with Carlyle, has a Gold Medal and is a leader (Why he wears the "C"). If it's possible to get Getzlaf in the off season I think that is the leafs best option.

However, the likelihood of the leafs landing Getzlaf in the free agent market isn't very high but you still have to try. If the leafs don't get him well then they will have to resort to something else.

I just don't feel ROR is the player the leafs need down the middle of the first line......RIGHT NOW

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#9 Greg P
February 27 2013, 01:38AM
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@Topshelf

Just a thought but, I feel JVR and MacArthur should swap lines on your chart considering how well the MacArthur Kadri combo is working.

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#10 Topshelf
March 01 2013, 06:47AM
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@Greg P

That'd be good too. The point is the top nine would be talented and versatile. Oh well, looks like no O'Reilly now anyway.

Regarding Getzlaf, I don't see him leaving Anaheim at all. They're playing really well and they have tons of cap room.

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