I wholeheartedly endorse an opinion offered by my friend Jim Thomas, who covers the Blues with great skill and depth for the Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.
In reflecting on Ryan O’Reilly’s incredible season, “JT” suggested that the Blues’ acquisition of O’Reilly rates among the best trades in St. Louis sports history.
There’s no doubt about that.
For the record, Blues manager Doug Armstrong pilfered O’Reilly from Buffalo last summer in exchange for enigmatic forward prospect Tage Thompson, salary-dump garbage Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sabotka, and a first-round selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.
That was a rather modest price to pay. This deal caused no pain. This deal had no repercussion for the Blues’ present or future. It’s quite the opposite.
The O’Reilly trade resulted in pure joy, unrestrained happiness, immense gratitude, the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and the best damn championship parade this town will ever see.
Not that anyone needs to build a case, but consider:
+ O’Reilly scored 28 goals, second on the Blues.
+ He led the Blues in assists (49) and points (77.)
+ O’Reilly led the Blues with a plus-minus rating of +22.
+ As advertised, O’Reilly was the Blues’ best faceoff man, winning 57 percent of the draws. He won a total of 1,086 faceoffs, leading the NHL for the second consecutive season. And O’Reilly was well above 50 percent in faceoff success rate in all three zones: offensive (57.4%), neutral (57%) and defensive (56.3%.)
+ O’Reilly was an indefatigable presence who went to work in all 82 regular-season games, plus a full load of 26 postseason games. O’Reilly led Blues forwards with 1,702 minutes of regular-season ice time … and led the team’s forwards in postseason action with 546 minutes and nine seconds on the ice.
+ During the regular season O’Reilly was the only NHL forward to put together this combination of endurance and excellence:
+ O’Reilly set an all-time Blues record for most points (23) in a postseason. He set a record for most minutes played in a postseason by a Blues forward. And he competed in the playoffs while blocking the pain of a crackled rib.
+ O’Reilly became the third player in league history to score his team’s first goal in four consecutive Stanley Cup Final games — matching Sid Smith (1951) and Norm Ullman (1966).
+ O’Reilly was the first player with goals in four straight Stanley Cup Final games since Wayne Gretzky in 1985. (Of course, we’re referring to Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.)
+ With the Blues trailing Boston 2-1 in games and St. Louis in danger of falling further behind the Bruins 3-1 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, O’Reilly saved the day by scoring twice in Game 4 to lead the The Note to a 4-2 win.
+ With the series tied 2-2, O’Reilly scored 55 seconds into the second period of SC Final Game 5 to ignite the the Blues to a 2-1 victory at TD Garden in Boston.
+ And after flubbing a chance to win the Cup by knocking the Bruins out in Game 6 at Enterprise Center, the Blues had to head back to Boston for Game 7. No problem. With goaltender Jordan Binnington keeping the invading Bruins off the board early, O’Reilly shocked the crowd with a deflection of a Jay Bouwmeester shot for a goal and 1-0 lead with 3:13 left in the first period. And O’Reilly assisted on Zach Sanford’s third-period goal that wrapped up a 4-1 STL victory for the Stanley Cup.
+ O’Reilly won the vote for the Conn Smythe Trophy — the prestigious and coveted award presented annually to the MVP of the Stanley Cup tournament.
+ At the annual NHL awards presentation at Las Vegas on Wednesday night, O’Reilly received the Selke Trophy which goes to the league’s best defensive forward.
O’Reilly was the Blues’ best and most consistent player from start to finish … he didn’t miss a game … in the regular season he was their leading scorer AND the league’s best defensive forward and faceoff man … O’Reilly played superb, honest-effort hockey even with the Blues straining and struggling to pull themselves out of a potentially ruinous early-season hole … he set postseason franchise records and was the the Blues’ best forward during the postseason … and he was the NHL’s postseason MVP.
The Blues won the first Stanley Cup of their 52-year existence in O’Reilly’s first season — with O’Reilly setting the example for work ethic, endurance, determination and the relentless pursuit of high standards. He played playing a leading role over a long and winding 108-game road that had turns, twists, trouble — and ultimately triumph.
The Blues’ capture of the Cup was the greatest moment in St. Louis sports history, and it wouldn’t have been possible without O’Reilly’s performance, resilience, mental and physical toughness and timely plays.
“He’s the type of player any team would want,” said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, as quoted by NHL.com. “He does everything right, and he deserves all the credit he’s getting.”
Yep, no doubt … Jim Thomas was spot on.
This goes high on the list of the greatest trades in STL sports history.
At least during modern times.
Right up there with:
— The Cardinals getting future Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock from the Cubs for pitcher Ernie Broglio …
— The Blues acquiring young sniper (and future Hall Famer) Brett Hull from Calgary, giving up defenseman Rob Ramage and goaltender Rick Wamsley.
— The Cardinals’ acquisition of future Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter from the Cubs for three expendable players.
— Future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk coming over from Indianapolis for two draft choices before the 1999 season that ended with the STL Rams winning the Super Bowl.
— Future Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith coming from San Diego for shortstop Garry Templeton.
— The Cardinals landing center fielder Jim Edmonds from Anaheim in exchange for pitcher Kent Bottenfield and infielder Adam Kennedy.
— The Cardinals acquiring a relatively unknown outfield prospect, Willie McGee, from the Yankees in return for pitcher Bob Sykes.
— The Cardinals’ trade with Oakland to bring in slugger Mark McGwire for reliever T.J. Mathews and two marginal pitching prospects.
— The STL Rams securing the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft from the NY Jets to grab Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace, who went on to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
— The Cardinals securing pitching prospect Adam Wainwright (plus pitchers Ray King and Jason Marquis) from Atlanta for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero.
— The early Blues acquiring Red Berenson and Barclay Plager, two of the most respected players to ever wear the Note, in a one-sided 1967 deal with the New York Rangers.
O’Reilly belongs for all of the reasons cited here. On top of everything else, he’s also a class act who has fallen in love with St. Louis and Blues fans. He’s the perfect fit in every way. And I don’t know if any Blue had more fun on the parade route last Saturday.
“We all were rock stars,” O’Reilly told NHL.com. “It was crazy. Just walking, people reaching out trying just to touch you. It was just, ‘Oh, my god. We’re famous now.’ I think that’s the beauty of winning in that city. I think that we all on the plane home were like, ‘We’re going to be legends in St. Louis.’ We just all felt like we did do something amazing, but in this city that loves their hockey and supports it the way they do, we’re excited that we’re going to have something special with that group of people for the rest of our lives.”
The O’Reilly trade was so great, it makes you wonder what other general managers were thinking when they bypassed Armstrong for the GM of the Year award. (He finished second.) It’s an absolute joke, especially considering that the ballots were filed after two postseason rounds. But the last laugh, and the Stanley Cup, belong to Armstrong and the Blues.
Thanks for reading …