The Colorado Avalanche intended to sign talented forward Ryan O'Reilly to a contract extension in the offseason. Instead, they decided the best move was to deal him.
Off to a strong start in Buffalo, O'Reilly returns to Denver looking to help the Sabres win four straight on the road for the first time in four seasons Wednesday night.
One season after O'Reilly set career highs with 28 goals and 64 points, he posted a personal-best 38 assists in 2014-15. Although he blossomed while spending his first six seasons in Colorado, the club felt it would be too expensive to keep him long-term.
The Avalanche wound up sending O'Reilly and fellow forward Jamie McGinn to Buffalo on June 26 in exchange for young defenseman Nikita Zadorov, forward Mikhail Grigorenko, the rights to J.T. Compher and the No. 31 pick in the draft.
“In the salary-cap era you have to make tough decisions sometimes,” general manager Joe Sakic told the NHL's official website in June.
Signed to a seven-year, $52.5 million extension in July, O'Reilly has made an immediate impact by leading Buffalo (19-23-4) with 17 goals and 39 points. He's a big reason the Sabres are 12 points shy of matching their league-low 54 from '14-15 and have already surpassed last season's nine road wins with a 10-9-2 mark.
“He's got tremendous hockey sense,” Sabres general manager Tim Murray said of O'Reilly, who turns 25 next month. “I think his hockey sense is off the charts. I think he makes everyone around him better.”
Playing for his third club, McGinn is fourth on the team with 21 points. He gave Buffalo a 2-0 lead Monday at Arizona after O'Reilly assisted on Jack Eichel's goal in the 2-1 victory. O'Reilly has six goals and nine assists in the last 12 road contests.
The Sabres have yielded 10 goals to go 4-1-0 following a six-game losing streak in which they were outscored 21-8. A winner in five of seven away from home, Buffalo last won four straight on the road to open the '11-12 season.
“We can win,” said Eichel, the second overall pick in 2015 who has three goals and six assists in six road games. “We know that.”
Buffalo hopes its improved road play can end an 0-2-2 slide at Colorado (23-21-3), where the Avs have scored 16 times while winning four of their last five.
Colorado has not gotten much of a return on its end of the O'Reilly trade with Grigorenko recording 12 points in 40 games and Zadorov seeing action in 14 while spending most of his time in the AHL. Fighting for a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Avs split a two-game trip after Monday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg.
Carl Soderberg had a goal with an assist and Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves after yielding four goals in each of his prior two starts. The Avs have given up three goals in three games but will need to improve on their 8-14-1 mark against the East.
“(Monday) was an important game for us. We need to continue,” coach Patrick Roy said. “It is important because we're not doing so well against teams from the East for some reason.”
Jarome Iginla's 13th goal Monday is Colorado's only power-play score in 11 chances over its previous five. The Avs, however, have killed all 12 penalties in the last four.
The Sabres have converted 25 percent (8 for 32) of their opportunities with the man-advantage in the last nine contests.
Buffalo's Chad Johnson has a 1.34 goals-against average in his last three starts.