LAS VEGAS — For all the talk at the Stanley Cup final you heard about the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Barry Trotz and Marc-Andre Fleury, there was a player with a building buzz as the calendar crept into June and he had not played in an NHL game in more than two months.
The name? Ryan O'Reilly.
The Sabres center's locker cleanout day chat with reporters that resonated around the NHL won't go away. And it has much of the league's Canadian-based media cognoscenti insistent that Buffalo will be shipping out its top two-way player at some point in the next two weeks in advance of the draft June 22-23 in Dallas.
Maybe they're right. Or maybe O'Reilly's name will go down as more grist on the rumor mill that never actually takes place, which is far more of what happens nowadays in a media world beholden to content and chatter than what the final scorecard ultimately looks like. (Now in fairness, it's also a world where rumors probably would come true much more often were it not for the salary cap preventing deals from taking place.)
But in either case, here's some unsolicited advice for Sabres GM Jason Botterill about O'Reilly: Don't do it.
The Sabres are about to add Rasmus Dahlin to their roster and will almost certainly have Casey Mittelstadt on a full-time basis this season. Why in the world would they trade O'Reilly now? You have to be strong down the middle. A lot of teams out there would be pretty envious of a center group that reads Eichel-Mittelstadt-O'Reilly. If you trade O'Reilly, who is taking up all his minutes — and who is winning a faceoff?
TSN has O'Reilly as No. 2 on its tradebait board heading into the offseason, behind only Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson. O'Reilly is coming off a 24-goal, 61-point season where he was the NHL's top faceoff man. And he's going to get traded for saying he hated losing and lost his passion for the game because he saw a locker room where too many guys didn't care? That makes no sense.
All O'Reilly is desperate for is a winning situation. Fans and media routinely crush players for speaking in cliches so now we're all going to turn around and demand O'Reilly's walking papers for being honest? The Sabres were a 62-point embarrassment in the season that just ended. How will trading O'Reilly make them better?
When there's this many teams reportedly circling around inquiring on O'Reilly, that should tell you something. They think he's a quality asset. The Sabres shouldn't be in the market for getting rid of those. They don't have enough of them.
O'Reilly is overpaid at a $7.5 million cap hit, but former GM Tim Murray was negotiating against himself on O'Reilly's long-term extension in 2015. The deal is heavily bonus laden, with the Sabres having already paid $20 million of the $52.5 million out in the first two years. Starting in 2019-20, the final four years would cost you just $6 million per season ($5 million in bonuses and $1 million in salary).
Botterill isn't shopping O'Reilly, but the feeling here is he's being prudent. If you call the Sabres GM these days, he'll listen on anybody you're asking about except Eichel and Mittelstadt. Montreal and Vancouver are well-known to be interested in O'Reilly, and Carolina is looking to completely retool its team under new owner Tom Dundon.
Botterill should be asking for the sun and the moon if there's any talk about O'Reilly. This corner's choice for a starting point would be Carolina defense stud and close Eichel friend Noah Hanifin. That's how high up the list Botterill needs to go if there's any consideration to dealing O'Reilly.
For his part, O'Reilly told TSN at the World Championships in Denmark that he was stoked about Buffalo's lottery win and wants to stay here. That should matter too. Botterill himself said in April he respected the fact O'Reilly was being honest. You don't hear much talk from within the organization that O'Reilly has to go. It's all coming from the outside.
The Sabres shouldn't do it.
On Risto, another thought
Which core player should the Sabres be moving? Realizing that it could be Sam Reinhart if Botterill can't come to some sort of reasonable contract for the restricted free agent, the one who seems to make more sense is Rasmus Ristolainen.
Yes, the Sabres need defensemen desperately, and Ristolainen's big minutes seem hard to replace. But Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal floated a Ristolainen for Oscar Klefbom deal in recent days, and you wonder if the Sabres might go the change-of-scenery route with Ristolainen.
After all the losing he's dealt with since 2013, Ristolainen's play clearly suffered this season. You got the sense he wasn't seeing eye to eye with Eichel and Reinhart at times, particularly on the power play. And while he seems on the Tyler Myers track and could be reborn elsewhere like Myers has been in Winnipeg, you wonder if Ristolainen can ever turn into a winning player.
Only 23, Ristolainen has four years left on a deal that pays $5.4 million per season. It would be a risk to move him. There would have to be a lot in return, too. But it would hurt the team much less going forward than moving O'Reilly.
Getting the name right
For the record: Dahlin's last name is pronounced "Dah-LEAN." So anyone who wants to push the "All in for Dah-LIN" line has it wrong.
How do I know? This kid was asked at the Combine and again at the Cup final. And that was his answer. As sources go, that's a pretty good one.
Speaking of Dahlin, some NHL officials were properly chafed that NBC did not put everyone's No. 1 overall pick on its telecast of Game 4 from Washington. The Peacock folks instead went for Americans Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes. Such a foolish move.
Dahlin is a future star in the league and will play in a market that produces some of the network's best local ratings. His English is already fine for television, as he did numerous interviews at the Combine and in D.C., including a live one at the final with NHL Network. Another bad call by NBC, which makes plenty of them at times with its hockey coverage.
Let your buyout fever begin
The NHL's buyout period opens Friday, and you would assume Botterill would have at least one move to make to free some cap space for the Sabres. That would be a buyout of Matt Moulson's final year, which has the Sabres on the hook for a $5 million cap hit. A buyout cuts that to $3,666,667 next season and just $666,667 for 2019-20.
Buying out Zach Bogosian would be quite a bit more costly, as he's owed $12 million over the next two seasons, and a buyout would spread $8 million of that over the next four years. The Sabres would be paying a $1,142,857 cap hit on Bogosian the next two years and a $2 million cap hit in 2020-21 and 2021-22, when he would have been otherwise off their books. That seems like an awfully big price to pay.
Former Sabre Tyler Ennis seems like a buyout candidate in Minnesota with one year and $3.65 million left on his deal. The Wild could cut his cap hit from $4.6 million to $2,166,667 next season and would then be on the hook for $1,216,667 in 2019-20. Ennis had just eight goals in 73 games for Minnesota last season after being acquired from the Sabres and coach Bruce Boudreau quickly grew tired of his inability to complete plays and battle for the puck.
Knights need a No. 1 blueliner
The Cup final got a little big for Vegas and one reason was it just didn't have that stud to play 25-30 minutes a game on the back end. The Knights' No. 1 pair of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb was game on the ice but overmatched. You would think Vegas would circle back on its trade deadline talks with Ottawa for Karlsson and you wonder if the Knights might try to break the bank for free agent John Carlson of the Caps.
Remember, who drafted Carlson? Vegas GM George McPhee, then with the Caps. It remains to be seen if the Caps can pay Carlson the roughly $8 million per season it will take to re-sign the league's top scoring blueliner in the playoffs.
Trotz in a very good place
Trotz said he was in "a good place" after the Cup win and quickly wanted to point out he was simply talking about his state of mind in life and not his contract situation. But he could have been referring to that, too.
A free agent, it was expected that Trotz wasn't coming back. Now that he's won the Cup, how can the Caps let him go? If they do, you would think new Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello will be calling quickly. And you wonder if new Minnesota GM Paul Fenton, who spent years with Trotz in Nashville, might consider turfing Bruce Boudreau and replacing him with Trotz.
Trotz said his favorite moment of the Cup run was the annual impromptu picture the winning team takes on the ice immediately after passing the trophy to each player and staff member.
“You can do all the pictures you want sitting and all that, but that one when everybody’s there, your black aces, your trainers, your management, everybody who’s had a big piece of that and just the pure joy. To me, that is what you remember. When I go to my grave, I’ll remember that moment. It has such an imprint in your soul."
Around the boards
• The Sabres need a goalie to pair with Linus Ullmark and one guy they should be taking a look at is Capitals backup Philipp Grubauer. You would imagine the Islanders would be pushing to acquire Grubauer as well, and might be pondering a deal for Robin Lehner. Grubauer had a 2.35 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 35 games but Braden Holtby has his chance to be a No. 1 goalie sealed off.
• Carolina has re-signed Nichols product and Williamsville native Andrew Poturalski to a one-year, two-way contract ($700,000 NHL/$70,000 AHL). Poturalski, 24, has 22 goals and 27 assists for 49 points this season for Charlotte. He was tied for third in the AHL with seven game-winning goals.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward has 106 points in 166 career AHL games. He played two NHL games for the Hurricanes at the end of the 2016-17 season.
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres/ Erik Karlsson/ Jason Botterill/ John Carlson/ NHL Draft/ Rasmus Dahlin/ Rasmus Ristolainen/ Ryan O'Reilly/ Stanley Cup final/ Tyler Ennis/ Vegas Golden Knights/ Washington Capitals/ Zach Bogosian