Ryan O'Reilly's long-rumored trade out of Buffalo arrived just as it seemed NHL rivals had deemed the asking price as too rich.
The Sabres sent their sturdy center to the Blues on Sunday in exchange for veteran forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and a trove of future assets, including St. Louis' 2019 first-round draft pick, the teams announced. Top prospect Tage Thompson and the Blues' second-rounder in 2021 also are part of the deal.
The trade was first reported by TSN's Bob McKenzie.
Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has been engaged in trade discussions surrounding O'Reilly since the end of the season. Talks intensified around last weekend's NHL Draft, with center-needy teams like the Canadiens, Blues and Islanders most often tied to the rumors, but they all balked at the Sabres' reported demands of multiple high draft picks and NHL-ready talent in return.
Botterill, armed with the leverage that comes in dealing any high-caliber player with term, remained steadfast on that ask through Sunday. O'Reilly was due a $7.5 million signing bonus before midnight July 1, per his contract (which runs until 2022-23), and the GM warned his counterparts the price would only increase if the Sabres were forced to foot the bill, perhaps in an attempt to rejuvenate trade talks.
It paid off.
Jason Botterill said he's been talking to Doug Armstrong for weeks, even months.
— Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL) July 2, 2018
O'Reilly, 27, was a productive player in the three seasons following his 2015 trade from Colorado to Buffalo, and was second on the team with 24 goals and 61 points in 2017-18. But the Sabres finished dead last in the NHL for the third time in five years, and Botterill is being tasked with reforming that culture of losing.
That O'Reilly became something of a poster child for the futility in April with his candid but controversial comments about falling out of love with hockey was unfair, but he was one of Buffalo's most tradable assets whose return could further advance Botterill's rebuild.
The Blues are also seeking a shakeup after missing the playoffs in 2017-18, but seemed an unlikely candidate to acquire O'Reilly after signing free-agent center Tyler Bozak to a three-year, $15 million contract earlier Sunday. Bozak's cap hit befits the role of a No. 2 center, one St. Louis was yet to fill after trading Paul Stastny at the deadline last year, but O'Reilly's addition should bump the former Maple Leaf to the third line on the depth chart behind Brayden Schenn.
The draft picks were key to any deal involving O'Reilly. Before the draft, the Sabres reportedly sought Montreal's No. 3 overall pick, a non-starter for Habs GM Marc Bergevin despite the franchise's desperate need for a center. Blues GM Doug Armstrong evidently felt comfortable parting with next year's top-10 protected first rounder — one he hopes will fall outside the lottery — after entering with two picks in the first round this year, trading one and using the other to select Dominik Bokk.
The 2019 first round pick St. Louis is sending to Buffalo in the O'Reilly trade is top 10 protected, Blues GM Doug Armstrong
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) July 2, 2018
In Berglund and Sobotka, the Sabres acquire a pair of versatile if unremarkable 30-year-old forwards to maintain their cap floor. Combined, the two are due to make about the same as O'Reilly in 2018-19. Berglund is under contract for four more seasons and Sobotka, who returned to the Blues in 2017 after a stint in the KHL, is signed through 2019-20.
The Sabres could also include Thompson, drafted 26th overall by St. Louis in 2016, on their NHL roster next year. The 20-year-old rookie made his debut last season, scoring three goals and nine points in 41 games with the Blues.