SUNRISE, Fla. – The Sabres’ rebuild timeline changed radically Friday night with a blockbuster trade. Buffalo acquired budding star center Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche as part of a multiplayer package that had folks at the NHL Draft buzzing and Sabres fans looking toward rapid improvement.
O’Reilly is carving a reputation as one of the better two-way centers in the NHL. The 24-year-old already has six years of experience, putting up 90 goals and 246 points in 427 games with the Avalanche. He had 17 goals and 55 points in 82 games last season. He won the Lady Byng Award as most gentlemanly player in 2013-14, when he had 28 goals, 64 points and just two penalty minutes.
“I’m thrilled to be welcomed into the Buffalo Sabres,” O’Reilly wrote on Twitter. “I’ve heard nothing but great things and I’m extremely excited to get started!”
Though young and talented, O’Reilly was long-rumored to be on the trade block because of contract issues. He held out at the start of the 2013 lockout-shortened season and signed an offer sheet with Calgary that Colorado matched. He followed up by signing a two-year, $12 million deal that expires after next season. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but Sabres General Manager Tim Murray has no plans to let that happen.
Murray talked with O’Reilly’s agent after the trade.
“I walked over and introduced myself around the fifth pick or sixth pick,” Murray said in BB&T Center. “They got him on the phone and I spoke to him. I told them that I hoped we could start talking contract extension whenever we’re able to, and that’s July 1.”
The Denver Post reported Friday night that O’Reilly asked the Avs for an eight-year, $64 million extension.
“You know going in when you make a trade like this that negotiations are going to be starting a high number,” Murray said. “We’re fully prepared for that.”
The 6-foot, 210-pounder joins a center corps that includes Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart. O’Reilly won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs last season and will give a boost to the Sabres, who finished last in the category at 44.9 percent.
“His hockey sense is off the charts,” Murray said. “I think he makes everybody around him better. I love his work ethic on and off the ice. I love his compete level. There’s nothing I don’t like about him.
“The consensus from a lot of players that I’ve spoken to that have played with him and been around him was that he was The Guy. He seems to be the guy. At the world championships, for example, Tyler Ennis came back and raved about him. I’ve heard the same from other GMs that their players have said the same thing.”
The Sabres also picked up left wing Jamie McGinn in the deal. The 26-year-old has 69 goals and 128 points in 366 games with San Jose and Colorado. He had 19 goals and 38 points with the Avs in 2013-14. McGinn has one season left on a contract that pays $3 million annually.
The players, of course, didn’t come cheap. Buffalo parted with defenseman Nikita Zadorov, center Mikhail Grigorenko, prospect J.T. Compher and the No. 31 overall draft pick. Like Friday’s earlier acquisition of goaltender Robin Lehner, the Sabres gave up future potential for immediate results.
Zadorov, drafted 16th overall in 2013, saw his standing in the Sabres’ organization drop because of multiple instances of tardiness. Murray had threatened the 20-year-old with a trip to the minors if he didn’t show up to training camp more mature and in better shape.
The defenseman showed flashes of brilliance with offensive skills and physicality while putting up three goals and 12 assists in 60 games this past season.
Grigorenko didn’t figure into the Sabres’ long-term plans with so many centers ahead of him on the depth chart. He is reunited with his junior coach, Patrick Roy, who is Colorado’s bench boss.
Drafted 12th overall in 2012, Grigorenko had six goals and 14 points in 68 games with Buffalo during a wild three seasons. He twice started the year in Buffalo before being sent back to juniors. He had 14 goals and 36 points in 43 games with Rochester last season.
“We weren’t willing to do a one-way contract,” Murray said. “We weren’t willing to say he was developing as a hockey player. Now he goes to a place that wanted him, a place he’s certainly familiar with the head coach having had him in junior hockey. Let’s hope for the best for him there.”
The Sabres selected Compher in the second round in 2013. The forward will be a junior at the University of Michigan, where he put up 12 goals and 24 points in 34 games.
“We certainly paid a price,” Murray said. “We’re excited obviously. It was a good day.”
Meanwhile, the Sabres have to decide by Monday whether they’ll buy out the contract of forward Cody Hodgson.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion on Cody, and we have a plan,” Murray said.