Losing sapped Ryan O’Reilly’s love for hockey last season. ©2019, Janet Schultz

Trading Ryan O’Reilly looks like brutal deal for Sabres

BUFFALO – The trade could go down as one of the worst in Sabres history.

For NHL All-Star Ryan O’Reilly, the Sabres received two overpaid veteran forwards, a prospect who has been in and out of the lineup and first- and second-round picks from the St. Louis Blues, this afternoon’s opponent at KeyBank Center.

The Sabres’ struggles this season can be sliced and diced a thousand ways. But getting rid of O’Reilly on July 1 has kept them among the NHL’s bottom-feeders.

The Sabres dished one of the NHL’s most versatile centers without having any sort of viable replacement. The deal has left a gaping hole in their lineup.

In addition to producing offense – the Sabres have been historically bad scoring goals this month – O’Reilly plays critical minutes and takes more faceoffs than any NHL player.

With captain Jack Eichel suspended for Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sabres coach Phil Housley had to use Vladimir Sobotka, 31, as his “No. 1” pivot.

Sobotka, one of the players acquired for O’Reilly, recently ended his 41-game goal drought. He has registered zero assists in his last 18 contests. Overall, he has compiled five goals, 12 points and minus-16 rating in 64 games.

On Saturday in Carolina, Sobotka, who has a $3.5 million salary cap hit, was a healthy scratch against the Hurricanes.

This afternoon, O’Reilly, 28, will return to Buffalo for the first time in the midst of a career season.

O’Reilly has scored 26 goals and 68 points, new highs, and compiled a gaudy plus-22 rating through 71 outings. He was an NHL All-Star again. He has averaged 20 minutes, 55 seconds an outing, one of the highest totals among NHL forwards.

Following a terrible start, the Blues have surged into a playoff spot, going 30-18-4 since firing coach Mike Yeo and elevating Craig Berube. They throttled the scorching Penguins 5-1 on Saturday afternoon.

O’Reilly looks rejuvenated.

The Sabres, meanwhile, have been downright awful for months, falling from first overall to sixth in the Atlantic Division since their 10-game winning streak ended.

The constant losing O’Reilly endured throughout his three years in Buffalo beat him down. After the Sabres finished dead last a year ago, he explained how the rough season sapped some of his love for hockey.

To O’Reilly, the Sabres had become “stuck in this mindset of just being OK with losing.”

“I feel too it’s really crept into myself,” O’Reilly said April 9. “Over the course of the year I lost myself a lot, where it was just kind of get through, being OK with just not making a mistake, and that’s not winning hockey at all and it’s crept into all of our games. It’s disappointing, it’s sad.

“I feel throughout the year I’ve lost the love of the game multiple times and just need to get back to it because it’s eating myself up and eats the other guys up, too.”

Those comments, of course, were shocking. O’Reilly displayed more passion than any Sabre in recent memory. He never seemed satisfied and always shouldered responsibility.

Perhaps he wanted to force his way out of Buffalo. Maybe he was just venting.

Whatever the case, his words irked the Sabres fan base.

General manager Jason Botterill said after trading O’Reilly he did not need a change of scenery. He had mentioned months earlier the Sabres needed a significant move to shake them up.

Still, why O’Reilly?

Did the Sabres panic? Did they think O’Reilly’s presence would be bad for business or a distraction? Did O’Reilly not get along with someone?

The deal, which was completed hours before O’Reilly was due a $7.5 million bonus, has paid virtually no dividends for the Sabres.

After compiling two goals and four points in 23 games, center Patrik Berglund, 30, quit the Sabres in December, leaving $12,579,032 on the table. It’s a miracle they don’t have his $3.85 million cap hit for another three seasons.

Berglund and Sobotka seemed like solid veterans who, despite big contracts, could be contributors and improve the Sabres’ depth.

Sobotka could be a buyout candidate following the season.

Tage Thompson, 21, is a former first-round pick who occasionally showcases the talents of an elite power forward. But the raw youngster began Saturday with seven goals, 12 points and a minus-17 rating in 60 games.

Thompson has more healthy scratches (10) than goals. The 6-foot-5 winger might turn out to be a fine player. But he probably should’ve spent this season in the minors.

Would Thompson have stayed in the NHL all season if he wasn’t part of the O’Reilly trade? Probably not.

The deal could eventually look smart. Thompson might develop into a 25- or 30-goal scorer. Perhaps the Sabres nab a terrific player with one of their picks.

But right now, the O’Reilly trade looks brutal for the Sabres.

12 thoughts on “Trading Ryan O’Reilly looks like brutal deal for Sabres”

    1. A guy who wants to be than complacent is not poison. He worked harder and longer than anyone else on that team. The young cocky players are the poison, didn’t put in extra effort. They wanted him out because he didn’t want to be like them. This wouldn’t have happened in the days of Chris Drury, who took the game serious. He would have put those young players in their place. I’m glad O’Reilly is successful, it’s what should have happened here in Buffalo. What you see today is the result of arrogant players whole want to rule the roost and not play a team game.

  1. The problem with the Sabres was not O’Reilly’s attitude, but the lazy attitude of half or more of his teammates ! Face it! Most of these guys lack the very passion that O’Reilly played with! This type of passion that sacrifices whatever it takes to score goals,defend your zone, crash the offensive zone and net is what is sorely lacking on this very, very soft team!
    Jason get your broom out! You need to do lots of housecleaning ! Find some players with ” true grit “! Shalom ! Fr Pat Ipolito

    1. Nobody understands the problem in Buffalo ……..iam from Montreal and à sabre fan from when they came into the league the sabre need a real hockey coach …. Michel Therrien is what they need he’s a low fuse tempo guy that will put these guys back on track just ask Crosby about him that’s all I have to say wake up botts

  2. Well, apparently the poison is still in Buffalo. O’Reilly was simply being human, and if the rest of the Sabres were honest, many would’ve echoed his sentiments. The problem is, apparently, there are still those unwilling to work to get to where they are contenders again. 3 games with no goals isn’t just bad luck, it still shows there are fundamental problems with the Sabres talent. I seriously doubt they will win another game this season. Like the season, many times the Sabres aren’t willing to put in a full game. The O’Reilly trade has turned out to be a stinker. That happens. But a lot more work remains to be done in rebuilding the Sabres. I’m sick and tired of players like Okposo saying after a game that the loss was unacceptable. Apparently that isn’t the case, because they keep on losing, and the same players keep on putting up horrible plus/minus ratings, yet don’t score either. This season would’ve been a total loss had they not had the 10 game winning streak. Rochester is doing well. Time to replace the dead weight with some players willing to work a whole season, regardless of the difficulties. It’s time to put up or shut up. That goes for the ownership, the GM, the coach and the players. They can win when they want to. The problem is the want to is questionable.

  3. Disagree with this article. I watched Ryan O’Reilly give up on this team, after he was signed and paid to be our captain. He was never granted the captaincy over a 19-year old Eichel, which speaks volumes about his character (which was evident during live games I watched: a lot of hunched shoulders and bowed heads). This is after the Avalanche gave up on him for the same reasons. If your “love of the game” is gone, then give up on playing hockey and find another job. You get paid millions every year to instill hope in your teammates and the loyal fans who pay to see you. The true measure of a man is not how he performs when things are going his way, but how he perseveres when times are tough. Ryan O’Reilly lacks the heart of a champion.

  4. This is a horrible article! First we were rebuilding and got 2 draft picks a first round and a second also a player who is still developing and found be a good player who is hard to defend! Our record is better than last year our goals have already surpassed last year. We have not drafted the players yet and our prospect is still learning. Too early to say it’s a bad trade period!

  5. Ryan O’Reilly is the kind of player no team should trade. He is a “heart and soul” type player who is honest and speaks his mind. He was good enough to Captain the Team Canada juniors and make the Team Canada at the World Championships. By trading him we lost our second line-Reinhart played great with him (Reinhart is a set-up guy who needs a guy like O’Reilly). I think we are a worse team without him. Besides all the face off wins he gave us-we also need guys like him with grit, character, and guys who go in the corners and come out with the puck. We have too many “talented” players that don’t do that. We draft too many Americans and Swedes and not enough hard-nosed Canadians and Finns. We are like our coach played-no team defense and no grit. We should never trade guys like O’Reilly, Kassian, Rob Ray- heart and soul good guys.

  6. The Sabres and the Oilers are both proof that simply drafting high year after year isn’t enough. We live in a strange time for the evolution of hockey culture – never before have so many players been paid so much before they’ve proven anything. Eichel is a great player, but 80 million dollars by the time he’s 21 and has achieved nothing yet?
    How is anyone supposed to coach a team full of these players? How is anyone supposed to tell them anything when their paycheques say they already know it all?
    O’Reilly was brought in to be the antidote, but one guy isn’t enough. The Sabres need a large scale infusion of character and a coach who can kick some butt as well as massage the egos.
    O’Reilly, as anyone who’s watched the playoffs knows, wasn’t the problem.

  7. Comments here are gold. Buffalo fans being clueless per usual. Poison haha! The Sabres should have given him the C after those comments about the loser environment that existed. Instead you branded him the enemy and made up some crap about him being the problem when obviously it is management all the way down to current leadership. This will go down as one of the worst trades in NHL history and definitely the worst in Sabres.

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