DENVER -- Seated midway up an otherwise deserted section of seats at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday, Jay Feaster, cutting an isolated figure, was busy working his phone as practice wore on. The cell seemed permanently stuck in his ear, almost if he had grown a second lobe.
Turns out, the embattled Calgary Flames GM wasn't, as rumoured, booking a dinner reservation at P.F. Chang's.
Instead, he was trying to at last land the No. 1 centre that has long topped this organization's wish list.
They are, in their field, as valuable as original Chagalls, these guys. As rare, as coveted, as Shakespeare First Folios.
You can't sign one.
You can't trade for one.
You can't instantly draft one.
So turns out you hijack one. Or try to, anyway.
In a bold, shrewd move Thursday, Feaster, apparently quite unhappy with what he sees of late on the ice, signed Colorado Avalanche restricted free agent pivot Ryan O'Reilly to an offer sheet. Colorado matched it mid-game as the Avs and Flames did battle.
Feaster was counting on an increasingly toxic relationship between player and organization coupled with the dollars involved -- two years at $10 million, $3.5 million in the first, a whopping $6.5 million in the second -- being enough to make Avs' management throw up their hands in exasperation and/or fury and take a pass.
The Avalanche, you can bet, weren't in the least pleased being put in this spot over O'Reilly, who had 39 goals and 68 assists over three seasons with Colorado.
Colorado had one week to match the offer or accept first- and third-round draft picks in exchange, but took just a few hours.
"The Calgary Flames have signed restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly to an offer sheet. Under the rules pertaining to an offer sheet, we will allow the process to transpire. We will not provide any further comment until the process is complete," said Feaster in a release.
When prodded for an extra word or two couple of hours before game time at the Pepsi Center, Feaster shook his head. Twice for emphasis. And walked on.
O'Reilly, too, had nothing to say when reached by media outlets.
You certainly couldn't blame Feaster for taking the shot. He was just trying to improve his hockey club, within the rules set out by the CBA. With a fourth consecutive year of no playoffs an undeniable possibility, impatience growing around town and the pressure beginning to mount, he felt he had go all-in with his chips on one spin of the roulette wheel.
The problems at the centre spot aren't resolving themselves. The Roman Cervenka experiment has, for the moment, anyway, tanked. They've been left to shifting wingers -- Michael Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay -- into the middle to prop up the wheelhouse position.
O'Reilly would have certainly solved the issue, at least to a degree.
Now, he isn't Jonathan Toews or Sid the Kid, but he'd be certainly slide into that top spot in the middle uncontested. And, only 22, the upside is intriguing.
The offer, though, was undeniably a huge one. So there seemed a certain desperation in those dollars.
The natural assumption was that the Avs would match. After all, in the previous 12 of these situations the team backed up against the wall has given in on 10 occasions. However, that they would match certainly was no guarantee.
O'Reilly's not exactly the most popular guy in the Mile High at the moment. The stalemate over a second contract here has got more and more acrimonious (in acknowledging the offer sheet in a media release of their own, the Avs didn't mention O'Reilly by name). His dad Brian got involved in the contract tiff on Feb. 19th by e-mailing the Denver Post to stick up for his boy. And the process did more harm than good:
"If my son was getting 95 in math we wouldn't ask him to get 65 so the rest of the students in the classroom could feel better about themselves," he wrote the paper. "Many parents have stories about their kids excelling in certain areas but they are asked to tone it down because you're making the other kids not look as good or feels good about themselves.
"So we ask the person who has a tremendous amount of character to take less money for his character yet it is the essential building block.
"This is not about money and never has been. As you know you don't build a team based on dollars. If you did then the people with the most expensive players would be our champion. You build a team on its character."
Bringing him back into the Colorado dressing room now, with all the accumulated baggage, the ill will built up by both organization and player, is a risk.
And, remember, now that the Avalanche have decided to pony up, he can't be dealt for a full year.
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