O'Reilly needs to suck it up

Add him to the Sabres' list of problems

Howard Simon
April 09, 2018 - 6:26 pm

Photo: Dan Hamilton - USA TODAY Sports


I’m not going to lie. I'd gotten tired of repeatedly hearing Ryan O’Reilly talk about how he needs to get better. He has said it so many times over the last two years that I was hoping he’d stop saying it and just go ahead and do it. While I appreciate O’Reilly’s honesty during the Sabres locker clean out, his latest comments make me believe he is part of the problem and not the solution.

O’Reilly talked about how he lost the love of the game multiple times over the course of the season. He said he became okay with just not making a mistake. My message to O’Reilly is a simple one: suck it up.

You are supposed to be one of the leaders of this team. One of the players that sets an example for others. I don’t mean to single out O’Reilly because there is plenty of blame to go around for one of the most, if not the most, miserable season in the history of the Buffalo Sabres. No one is blameless from the general manager to the coaches to the players.  

But O’Reilly has to be a tone setter. If I have to listen to all the talk about culture and chemistry and buying in, well, O’Reilly has to be a big part of that. I can’t have one of my team leaders moping around and feeling sorry about the sad state of affairs that is the Sabres franchise.

O’Reilly talked about how he felt lost from the start of the season. Why? There was a new general manager. A new coach had replaced the old coach, who the players apparently despised. It was a brand new season, and 10 new faces were on the opening night roster. How could he be lost going into the season? Sadly, the high point of the season was before they started playing any games. They lost on opening night and it went downhill in record speed.

No one wants to be on a losing team. I’d imagine coming to the rink these last two seasons hasn’t been much fun for anyone associated with the team, but that’s when you dig a little deeper and find a way to persevere. More so for a player of O’Reilly’s stature since many in the locker room could end up following his lead. Coaches and players always bring up accountability when searching for reasons to explain a failed season, yet how can you expect accountability in the room when one of the leaders of the team isn’t accountable to himself or his teammates?  

O’Reilly, Jack Eichel and Kyle Okposo are all in that leadership category and they should be showing up for work every day to set an example. That type of leadership was one of the reasons why I was thrilled when the Sabres traded for O’Reilly from Colorado. We heard stories about his work ethic, his off season training regimen, and dedication to his trade. In his first season here, we would hear stories about how he would always stay late after practices and lead extra work for anyone who wanted to join him. He’d be on the ice quite frequently working with a young player like Sam Reinhart. That is exactly what you want from a leader and from a player who is part of your core. You want someone who leads by example. What happened to that guy?

There’s a part of me that sympathizes with O’Reilly and others who have been here since the Sabres emerged from the tank. Maybe they feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, O’Reilly and company should try being a fan of this franchise. My hope tank was low going into the season and was completely empty by Halloween. On my worst day, I couldn’t have written up a script that would have had the season play out the way it did. 

But as the saying goes, when the going gets tough the tough get going. One of the problems this team had, and the Sabres have had for a few years now is a lack of mental toughness. It doesn’t make matters any better when one of the most important players on the roster, and a guy who wears a letter on his sweater, is talking about how he lost his love of the game multiple times over the course of the season. I can’t have that on my team. Not from a guy who is supposed to play such an important role.

I know what I’m going to get from O’Reilly. I’m getting a player who is pretty durable. O’Reilly has played in at least 70 games in all eight of his non-lockout seasons in the NHL. I’m getting a player who will get 20-25 goals and total about 60 points. I’m getting a guy who can score on the power play, play a key role on penalty killing and he will be my best and most reliable face-off man. There’s a lot to be said for all of that. But I need intangibles from O’Reilly too because more is asked of him and expected from him than the Johan Larsson’s, Zemgus Giregensons and Jordan Nolan's of the world. 

There was talk back at the trade deadline that the Sabres were getting calls about O’Reilly. At the time, Jason Botterill said O’Reilly is a part of the core of this team going forward, but Botterill has to be taken back by O’Reilly’s comments. His contract with five years remaining and a cap number of $7.5 million a year now looks like an albatross. The top two centers next season will be Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt, so if Botterill can make the team better by subtracting O’Reilly from it, so be it.

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