Following his mildly alarming locker clean out press scrum, Ryan O'Reilly has been a hot topic on Sabres twitter. I can sympathize with his bouts of dissatisfaction even to the point of losing his love for the game at times. The last few years I've been coaching High School hockey and have had difficult goes of it to say the least.
Following my first year as an assistant coach the head coach and assistant coach above me stepped down. I had actually intended to step down before I knew they were in order to try to join a travel team, but with both of them leaving I felt I couldn't abandon ship too. So I did the thing all 23 year olds do after 1 year behind a high school bench, and that's volunteer to take over as head coach. I knew it would be tough but I felt I was up to the task and was excited to have full control of a team and experiment with different ideas and strategizes.
Long story short, we went 0-20.
This was, uh, humbling, to say the least. Not that I went into it cocky or anything, but a winless season, especially in a sport as random as hockey, is deflating and a pretty tough gut punch. I think there are number of factors that contributed to our struggles, but this isn't really the place to dive into those.
Then this past year I joined a team in the Binghamton area as an assistant coach and we went 0-18 to start the season. I'm pretty sure I'm cursed. We thankfully won 2 games toward the end, so history didn't repeat itself, but still this past season really took a lot out of me in terms of enjoying the game like I always have. Dreading an upcoming practice or game is never something you want to feel about a sport, but I did this year and it sucks so much.
All that to say, I can sympathize with O'Reilly on this because losing really takes a toll on you, especially when you lose as much as the Sabres or my high school team did.
Beyond his headline making comments I feel like we should review what kind of player he is on the ice and how the Sabres should proceed with him going forward.
There were times throughout this season where I was pretty vocal about being fine with the Sabres trading ROR. Looking back on his season, I think I was wrong to be so flippant about trading him.
If they can land a #1 defenseman then maybe I'd be ok with it, but other than that I'm not so sure it's a good idea.
Here are some bullet point stat things to think about
At 5v5, only 41.1% of ROR's zone starts were in the offensive zone.
He faced the toughest defensive matchups on the team
Despite the defensive deployment, he finished with 49.9CF% on the worst team in the league.
He was 1 of only 35 Centers to finish with at least 60 points.
That doesn't seem that great, but think about it, there are 31 teams and they all need a #1 center. The Sabres arguably have 2, and if Mittelstadt pans out, they may have 3.
Despite facing the toughest matchups and getting most of his zone starts outside of the offensive zone, O'Reilly still finished with essentially an even corsi for percentage at 5v5. That's incredible especially for someone playing on the worst team in the NHL. This was also his second best season in terms of points and goals. Again, on the 31st placed team with a regressed Power-Play compared to the year before. He may not be an elite center, but there is a pretty good argument that he can be classified as a good number 1 center, and those can be difficult to obtain.
Unless he fetches you a top defenseman, I think Buffalo should hang on to him and roll with Eichel, O'Reilly, and Mittelstadt down the middle. Keeping ROR allows Housley to match him up with the tough assignments and give Eichel and Mittelstadt a little more room to move against weaker opponents.
His comments at locker clean out are somewhat troubling but not outrageous. This season sucked for everyone and to a certain extent I appreciate his honesty in a moment when most aren't. I hope he can get away from the game for a little bit and come back refreshed and excited to play again. I think a lot of that will hinge on how well Botterill does this offseason in improving the roster. O'Reilly is basically in the prime of his career so I can see how he could be frustrated with wasting his best years on a losing team with little shot at the playoffs.
I'll listen to ideas on trading O'Reilly, but it better be a strong NHL return. Picks and prospects won't cut it for a player of his caliber.