NHL Trade Targets: Exploring potential destinations and offers for Ryan O’Reilly

St. Louis Blues' Ryan O'Reilly, left, battles with Toronto Maple Leafs' John Tavares for possession of the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in St. Louis. (Billy Hurst/AP)

Leaning on insight from Jason Bukala, our in-house expert with years of NHL front office and scouting experience, Sportsnet will take a closer look at a number of prime trade candidates between now and the March 3 trade deadline. Up today: St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly.

It feels like there are an awful lot of captains potentially available at this year’s trade deadline. We’ve already looked at trade proposals for Jonathan Toews in Chicago and Bo Horvat in Vancouver. Now we turn our focus to Ryan O’Reilly, who went on to become the Conn Smythe Trophy winner of a Stanley Cup champion the last time he was traded.

O’Reilly makes a lot of sense for the Blues to look to move. First, the team is not in a playoff spot, sitting six points out of both the wild card and third place in the Central Division. GM Doug Armstrong has said how he acts at the trade deadline will be determined by how the team performs on the ice. Well, they’re 7-6-1 and 19th in the league by points percentage over the past month.

Second, O’Reilly is on an expiring contract, set to be a UFA this summer. He’s also going to turn 32 next month. If Armstrong is looking to turn over some of his team, O’Reilly ticks a lot of the boxes of the type of player you move in that situation, who theoretically should bring a notable return.

Of course, all the reasons that make O’Reilly a great target for other teams — leadership, centre depth, faceoff skill, defensive acumen — is what would make him attractive for the Blues to keep. Amidst trade speculation, O’Reilly recently suggested he’s open to taking some kind of discount (while holding his value) to stay with the Blues.

“Yeah, we’re starting to get a little dialogue going,” O’Reilly told The Athletic this week about the possibility of a contract extension. “I think there will be some talks kind of going forward here, but yeah, there’s no timeline or such. That’s kind of all I can really give you on that.

“This is where I want to be. I hope I don’t get moved, but I think things will probably progress, especially with the deadline coming up and the talks with that. We’ll see how it goes. We’re starting to get into that.”

But if a trade is to happen, there are a couple of potential complications as well.

O’Reilly broke his right foot and hasn’t played a game since New Year’s Eve. The team said he’d be reevaluated in six weeks, which would come shortly after the all-star break. If he’s able to return as expected he could have 10 games or fewer until the trade deadline, and teams might want to get an idea about how he’s returning on that foot.

The other mud in these waters is that O’Reilly hasn’t had a great season. He has 10 goals, but just 16 points in 37 games, which is a far statistical fall from recent seasons — and some of that offensive dip could be attributed to the fact he lost linemate David Perron (an underrated offensive contributor) to free agency last summer. O’Reilly’s expected goals for percentage at 5-on-5 this season has been 48.95 per cent, but his actual goals for percentage is 34.55 — only rookie Jake Neighbours has been worse in the stat. O’Reilly has been on the ice for 36 goals against at 5-on-5 this season — in 78 games played all of last season he was on the ice for 37 goals against.

So, there is some risk here for an acquiring team that O’Reilly had lost a step before breaking his foot on a blocked shot and that he isn’t quite Ryan O’Reilly this season. But the potential impact he could have is tantalizing. O’Reilly is a two-time Selke finalist and a one-time winner, regarded as one of the smartest defensive centres in the league. Having that presence on your third line is exactly the type of pickup that can put a team over the top for the Stanley Cup.

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Bukala’s Analysis

It’s difficult to put a value on O’Reilly as a deadline acquisition. Before going down with injury he was having a down year, to say the least.

O’Reilly has played 37 games this year and only produced 10 goals and six assists. The Blues have had a disjointed look as a group and suffered through peaks and valleys, but O’Reilly’s minus-28 rating stands out as a massive outlier.

He’s always been counted on to take key face-offs, though, and continues to win 54 per cent of his draws.

O’Reilly has never been a burner. He’s been an average-plus skater who is now hovering closer to average for the speed of today’s NHL game.

Does he have value? Is there enough to his game at this point of his career to add a layer of depth to a contending team? My gut is telling me yes, but I’m tempering my expectations.

Some of the teams I’m about to present as potential trade partners play the game (as a team) very fast. They attack opponents in groups of five. With O’Reilly already skating with average pace — and now coming off a broken foot — it might have an affect on the interest these teams have and what they are willing to pay for the veteran forward.

Potential Buyers: Carolina, Seattle, Minnesota, Edmonton


O’Reilly doesn’t have trade protection, so the Blues can shop his services throughout the league. The contending teams I have listed above will need to find a way to fit his $7.5 million cap hit into their system. Assuming the Blues are willing to absorb 50 per cent of that (especially if they are able to get some 2023 draft capital in return) that still leaves $3.75 million of required cap space. If that number is still too rich, the Blues and the team O’Reilly is destined for will have to find a third organization willing to take on a percentage of the cap hit (Arizona, for example).

Cash value of O’Reilly’s contract

Keeping in mind O’Reilly turns UFA on July 1 :

The majority of his contract was paid in the form of a signing bonus last July, so his in-season cash owing was just $1 million to begin the season. The reason that’s important is because O’Reilly’s cap hit will have to be absorbed by a third team, but the actual amount of money they’d have to pay the player is minimal.

Here’s the breakdown:

• Ryan O’Reilly cap hit in 2022-23: $7.5M
• O’Reilly actual salary owed in 2022-23: $6.0M
• Signing bonus paid in July, 2022: $5.0M
• Cash value of contract for 20222-23 season: $1.0M

So in a trade that includes a third team to maximize cap hit savings for O’Reilly, here’s how those cap distributions would break down:

• St. Louis absorbs 50 per cent of cap hit in trade: $3.75M
• Third team absorbs 50 per cent: $1.875M
• Minimum cap space needed for team to acquire O’Reilly: $1.875M

Ryan O’Reilly’s contract structure, per Cap Friendly.

By the time the trade deadline arrives, 78 per cent of O’Reilly’s cash will have been paid out, leaving only $220,000 total left owed by the teams involved in this transaction. If the Blues retained half of that, it would leave $110,000 in actual money owed by the acquiring team and a potential facilitator.

The cap hit is what needs to be absorbed by a third team. If Arizona absorbs 50 per cent of the cap hit before O’Reilly lands at his final destination, they will also be asked to retain 50 per cent of the remaining salary – or $55,000.

Arizona will be provided a draft pick by the team acquiring O’Reilly for their assistance with the transaction, and the acquiring team would owe him just $55,000 in actual salary the rest of this season.

Here are some potential landing spots, and the associated cost, for Ryan O’Reilly…


To Carolina: Ryan O’Reilly

To St. Louis: Carolina’s second-round pick in 2023

To Arizona: Carolina sixth round pick in 2023 or 2024

(St. Louis and Arizona both retain 50 per cent of cap hit and cash)


To Seattle: Ryan O’Reilly  

To St. Louis: Seattle’s second-round pick (via Toronto) in 2023

To Arizona: Seattle’s sixth-round pick in 2023 or 2024

(St. Louis and Arizona both retain 50 per cent)


To Minnesota: Ryan O’Reilly

To St. Louis: Minnesota’s second-round pick in 2023

Minnesota has enough cap space to acquire O’Reilly straight up, but ideally, the Blues would be willing to absorb some of the cap hit to allow Minnesota flexibility to make another deadline deals.


To Edmonton: Ryan O’Reilly

To St.Louis: Edmonton’s second-round pick in 2023

To Arizona: Edmonton’s sixth-round pick in 2023 or 2024     

(St. Louis and Arizona both retain 50 per cent)        

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