Colorado Avalanche fans can breathe a small sigh of relief, as the club elected to file for salary arbitration on restricted free agent forward Ryan O’Reilly before Sunday's deadline. The move appears to be precautionary, as according Adrian Dater of the Denver Post, the club is still trying to sign the forward to a new contract.
By taking O’Reilly to arbitration, the Avalanche avoid having to extend a qualifying offer before free agency opens on July 1. Thanks to a back-loaded offer sheet by the Calgary Flames in 2013; the Avalanche would have either had to tender O’Reilly a qualifying offer worth $6.5 million, or by failing to do so, let him become an unrestricted free agent.
While going to arbitration provides the team a bit of a safety net, the 29 other NHL clubs may still sign O’Reilly to an offer sheet once free agency opens. The Avalanche do retain the right to match any deal that is reached/ If they decline to match, they now ensure they will at least receive compensation for their loss in the form of draft picks.
The club electing to take him to arbitration also offers O’Reilly some assurances. Unlike with player-elected salary arbitration, the club does not have the ability to walk away from the decision made by the arbitrator. As such, the move guarantees O’Reilly an NHL contract for next season; whether it be from a deal reached prior to the hearing (which would likely be in late July) or through the arbitrator’s ruling.
Also, the arbitrator's award must be for at least 85 percent of the value of the final season of his last deal. As he made $6.5 million last season, he ensures himself of a deal worth at least $5.525 million annually. O’Reilly also has the option to chose the length of the deal, either one or two seasons.
Establishing O’Reilly’s value could prove somewhat difficult however. His offensive statistics (28 goals, 64 points) were good, albeit not elite. Defensively he was impressive, leading the league in takeaways while only committing one two-minute penalty (although he was minus-one). According to the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA, the arbitrator may take into account statistical performance, games played, length of service, contribution to the club’s success, special qualities of leadership or public appeal and also statistics and salaries of comparable players.
O’Reilly was selected by the Avalanche in the second round of the 2009. Making the team as an 18-year-old, he has spent the last five seasons in Colorado. He did miss time however, in the lockout-shortened campaign of 2013; when he held out in a contract dispute.