Tuesday, July 3, 2018

O'Reilly feels he has a new lease on life in NHL after trade to St. Louis

Center gets chance at winning now, regrets not doing 
so in Buffalo, feels there's great opportunity with Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan O'Reilly was on a boating cruise on Sunday evening before taking in a game of volleyball during a family function when his cell phone rang.

On the other end was agent Don Meehan to inform O'Reilly of news that he had been anticipating but wasn't quite sure when it would happen: a trade. 

O'Reilly had been traded to the Blues for a package that included forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson along with a 2019 first-round pick that's top-10 protected and a 2021 second-round pick.
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Ryan O'Reilly gives the Blues an instant boost at center
after his acquisition via trade from Buffalo Sunday.

Suddenly, as another phone call came in from Blues general manager Doug Armstrong while the adrenaline of emotions was engulfing O'Reilly from the initial shock, excitable words were all O'Reilly could think of in the conversation with the Blues GM and will make Blues fans and O'Reilly's teammates happy to hear, a phone call shown on the team site:

"Let's go win a Cup. ... I won't let you down."

And just like that, O'Reilly closed the book on his three-year run in Buffalo, as tough as it was with three losing seasons and no postseason appearances, and now moves back into the Central Division (he was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft and played six seasons in Denver) with high hopes of not only helping the Blues return to the playoffs after missing by a point last season, but helping them become a force in the Western Conference again.

With the simple words of "let's go win a Cup," O'Reilly became an instant fan favorite. 

"Obviously really exciting," O'Reilly said Monday. "Obviously I'm not sure where I was going to end up. I kind of knew there had been some action. Obviously St. Louis was one of the teams in there, but then yesterday, I was playing a little volleyball and got a call from my agent and said I had been traded to St. Louis. It was exciting. I didn't know exactly when things were going to happen ad go down, but I'm so excited to join this team and I'm looking forward to get started."

O'Reilly, who has 422 points (155 goals, 267 assists) in 651 NHL regular-season games, made headlines in Buffalo on April 9 at the conclusion of the season at the team's final media session when he used some strong, yet passionate, words to describe the culture of the Sabres and what needed to happen moving forward:

"We're stuck in this mindset of being OK with losing and I think it's crept into myself and over the course of the year, I lost myself a lot," O'Reilly said told media members then. "... It's crept into all of our games and it's sad. I feel throughout the year I've lost the love of the game multiple times. I need to get back to it because it's just eating myself up and you can see it in other guys too, it's eating us up and it's tough."

O'Reilly initially wanted to stay in Buffalo and help turn the franchise around after playing out the third of a seven-year, $52.5 million contract he signed to join Buffalo as a free agent in 2015.

That didn't happen, and now O'Reilly, 27, gets a new outlook on his professional career after a season in which he had 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) in 81 games.

"I don't want to dwell too much on the past," O'Reilly said. "... With the trade, it's disappointing to see that I wasn't a guy and a piece that can help, but I'm more excited that there's another team that wants me. St. Louis, think about it, I'm happy. I've got a chance to go to a great city and team, a team that's got a ton of good pieces and they're trying to win right now. That's something you want to be a part of. That's just the way the game goes. I don't know if it was my comments at the end of the year that got it rolling. I think with our team finishing in last place, I think you're expecting changes to happen. It just so happens that they want to go younger. I think there's a lot of things that went through it, but I couldn't be happier going to St. Louis. I'm actually thrilled."

O'Reilly has the financial security and term (five more years) on his contract. He's newly married with a six-month-old child. Family and security are two of the more important aspects in his life, but winning is a focal point in a player hitting the prime years of their careers, and it was evident in the monotone voice on that April 9th day yet it was screaming with passion on the inside.

"I'm definitely very happy with what just happened, being traded," O'Reilly said. "With the (end-of-season) comments, I stand by them. I think I wanted to make a change, I wanted to personally do things different and be honest and show up kind of making that effort that you know what, I've got to take responsibility, I've got to make that change. 

"I don't think it was perceived the best way. Sometimes that happens. I stand by it. Having the change and being traded, I'm happy with it. I didn't really have any expectations. I tried not to think about it, but now that it finally happened, I can kind of put last season behind me and move forward, look ahead. I feel like I have a spark in me now. This is something where ... there's something different. It's strange how it happened, but I'm happy and I'm excited. I don't regret anything that's happened."

O'Reilly has played in just 13 Stanley Cup playoff games and wants to get back badly and feels with this move, it elevates his chances during what are supposed to be the best playing years of his career of doing so.

"There's nothing like playoff hockey," O'Reilly said. "It's what we all kind of dream of doing. Unfortunately in my career, I haven't done it enough. I plan on coming in and helping this team get there, help this team win. Last year they were one win from getting in and you know, all you have to do is get in and you have a chance of winning the Cup. This team was so close and I want to be there. This is the best chance to do that."

One of the first Blues players to reach out was Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, a teammate of O'Reilly's at the 2017 World Cup of Hockey representing Canada, along with a throng of Blues players that welcomed in one of several new additions that Armstrong made through free agency by signing forwards David Perron and Tyler Bozak along with backup goalie and O'Reilly's teammate in Buffalo last season, Chad Johnson.

"A bunch of them reached out, all very positive, very excited," O'Reilly said. "It's very nice. I talked to Pietrangelo right after it happened. He was ecstatic and it was a very warm welcome. With the guys that I played with overseas, obviously them and talking to them there too. It's nice not going into a team with all new faces and I know guys that I've already got some great relationships going there. It makes the transition much easier.

"I got a chance to play with guys at the World Championships. To see them and to obviously have a relationship with Mike Yeo from that. I think there's a ton of great pieces. You look at the roster, playing against them last year, they're a team that got so close. I obviously want to be a part of that to take us to the next level and win a Stanley Cup. There's depth. You look at the backend, I think it's one of the best backends in the game right now. And then up front, there's just so much firepower. I've had the pleasure of playing with a few guys before and can't wait to do it again."

O'Reilly's addition caps off a day in which Armstrong also added Bozak (three-year, $15 million contract) to solidify the Blues at the center ice position along with Brayden Schenn, 2017 first-round pick Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev, and lastly, Robby Fabbri, who is coming off two major knee operations.

"I think it's very deep," O'Reilly said. "When I saw Bozak sign, I wasn't sure if St. Louis was still in the picture. It adds a lot, I think. The depth down there is huge. Look at all the teams that have success, they have guys down the middle that compete. I'm thrilled to be a part of that."
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Ryan O'Reilly had 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) with Buffalo
last season. He was traded to St. Louis on Sunday night.

O'Reilly also adds instant credibility, not just on the ice but off it as well, and Armstrong talked about adding those type of players to the locker room. O'Reilly, one of the top faceoff specialists in the NHL and top power-play guy (23 points in 2017-18), can lead on and off the ice and will not hesitate in doing so.

"I think I don't want to waste any time," O'Reilly said. "I think leading by example is something I've done. I think I do some things well that I think guys respect and they like. I think you do have some great veteran players and a really strong core in St. Louis that it's nice to jump into that. You can lead in so many different ways. There's going to be a time where there's something I have to do, step up in a different way that I may not have done before, and that's just as it comes, but I'm excited. I think the pieces are there, the leadership, the core group, the talent that they have is an exciting thing to come in and be a part of.

"... I think with any successful teams and successful players, it's one game at a time, winning one battle at a time. I think it'll be a different feel, whether it's ice time, I think I'll have to make adjustments. As of now, I'm training the same way I have been, come into camp at a maximum peak and make an impact every time I touch the ice."

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