If the Avs can bury the hatchet with Ryan O’Reilly, they can raise the Stanley Cup together.
Yes, O’Reilly left Colorado in 2015, his relationship with the Avs broken by acrimonious bickering about money.
But eight years is enough.
All is forgiven, my wayward son.
Make a trade for O’Reilly and the Avs would not only have the second-line center they’ve been missing since Nazem Kadri left town, but there wouldn’t be a team in the Western Conference that could prevent Colorado from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
After sleep-walking through a championship hangover and slapping BandAids on a roster beset by injury, center Nathan MacKinnon sat in the Avalanche locker room looking forward to some R&R at the beach before reporting for all-star festivities in Sunrise, Fla.
“We’re just trying to weather the storm of injuries. We’re confident if we can get in (the playoffs), we’ll have a good chance,” MacKinnon said Saturday, after Colorado turned back a late push from St. Louis in a 4-2 victory.
O’Reilly was not on the ice for the Blues in a tilt that served as a reminder why Colorado loves to hate St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington, who left the safety of his crease and went looking for trouble he really didn’t want to find during a brief second-period tiff.
While the clown show of Binnington is always amusing, what Avalanche fans would appreciate far more is if the Blues sent their captain to Colorado.
O’Reilly has been out of action since Dec. 31, while recovering from a broken foot. Heading toward free agency, a veteran center who celebrates his 32nd birthday next month recently expressed interest in securing a new contract that would keep him in St. Louis.
But the magic of a championship run enjoyed by O’Reilly and the Blues in 2019 has faded. It probably makes more sense for a franchise in need of a reboot to trade him to a current Cup contender for draft stock.
While Vancouver’s Bo Horvat is the rental center that has teams drooling, the true blockbuster deadline deal seems to run counter to the stealthy way Joe Sakic and the Avalanche front office prefer to conduct business.
Although the performance of O’Reilly had dipped before his injury, he’s a two-way center who plays with a defiant attitude that serves a team well when facing the inevitable playoff adversity.
While it’s become cliché to say Colorado could comfortably part ways with defenseman Sam Girard in any deal to improve its lineup of top six forwards, we’ve seen the Avs politely but stubbornly refuse to overpay in trade. So perhaps the Blues might be gently persuaded to accept a top prospect and a future No. 1 draft choice for O’Reilly, in addition to eating some of his salary.
With a 27-18-3 record after winning seven of eight games, the Avs now seem ready to do more than muddle their way into the back end of the Western Conference playoff field. Help is on the way, with Valeri Nichushkin, Bo Byram and Josh Manson expected to be at full strength again soon.
“All the guys coming back for us, won a Cup with us last year,” MacKinnon said. “We have confidence that when it really counts they’ll find their game and step up.”
How strong a Cup defense Colorado can muster is critically linked to the chances of captain Gabriel Landeskog returning to full health after a frustrating months on the shelf.
But if the Avs get Landy back and make a deal for O’Reilly? Look out, because neither Las Vegas nor Dallas could match the talent Colorado would bring to the ice for a playoff series.
We know MacKinnon looks sweet centering the No. 1 line, when flanked by Artturi Lehkonen and Mikko Rantanen. And all the hand-wringing about a competent 2C could be solved by O’Reilly and very dangerous wingmen in Nichushkin and Landeskog.
Rather than sneak in the back door of the playoff field, MacKinnon firmly believes that securing home ice for the first round is very possible. And if the defending champs get on a roll, they won’t blink in any opponent’s rink.
“We went 9-1 on the road last year (in the playoffs),” MacKinnon said. “So we know we can win on the road.”
All is forgiven, my wayward son.
Bring back O’Reilly and the Avs can win back-to-back championships.
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