Exclusive: Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly on trade talks, contract extension: ‘I want to be here’

When Ryan O’Reilly takes his seat at the Centene Community Ice Center Wednesday afternoon, he’s wearing a St. Louis Blues shirt and a protective boot on his broken right foot.

You wonder how much longer he will wear both, which could go hand in hand.

O’Reilly, 31, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and with each Blues loss, the chances of general manager Doug Armstrong moving his captain could increase. But at the moment he’s not skating, and he might not for at least another week.

“I hope soon,” O’Reilly said in an exclusive interview with Athletics. “You just have to be very careful with it so that we don’t have any resets on it. So I’m hoping to skate soon, but I don’t have a real timeline yet. We still need to get more pictures next week and hopefully be allowed to skate from there.”

However, the speculation about his future will not wait for his foot to heal.

O’Reilly is No. 6 on Athletics‘s latest trade board, and TSN’s Darren Dreger recently reported that the Blues have begun to gauge interest and generally assess what the market can bear for the center.

But don’t rule out the possibility of a contract extension with the Blues, O’Reilly said Athletics Wednesday.

“Yeah, we’re starting to get a little dialogue going,” he said. “I think there will be some conversations going forward here, but yeah, there’s no timeline or anything like that. That’s kind of all I can really give you on that.

“This is where I want to be. I hope I don’t get moved, but I think things will probably move forward, especially with the deadline and the talks with it. We’ll see how it goes. We’re starting to get into.”

Meanwhile, NHL clubs will be in touch with Armstrong about what it will take to trade for O’Reilly, and the rumors will continue to roll in.

“I still get messages from friends every time — you’re rumored for this team, you’re rumored for that team,” O’Reilly said. “It’s honestly in one ear and out the other at this point. If anything, it’s a distraction and I don’t want it to be a distraction for the team. You hear things, but like I said into in one ear, out the other.

“The main focus for me right now is just getting healthy and getting us back into the playoffs and I think things will flow from there. My focus is to be here and contribute to us getting into the playoffs.”

Few could have predicted that the Blues were in this position in the standings at this point in the season – six points off third place in the Central Division and a wildcard spot.

An extension for O’Reilly might have seemed like an automatic, but now with the potential of the club missing the playoffs, combined with his lack of production, it’s not so guaranteed.

“Gee, it’s been hard,” O’Reilly said. “If things went well and we won, I think things would be very different for myself personally, but also as a group.”

O’Reilly has 10 goals in 36 games, but with just six assists and 16 points, there is some concern that he has lost a step. But he doesn’t think so, as he thought a slow start was just a snail’s pace.

Ryan O’Reilly. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

“Myself, starting early, there was a lot of doubt,” O’Reilly said. “Yeah, I just don’t really trust my game anymore. That’s why I think this injury comes at a good time to take a step back and realize what matters and that’s just winning hockey games and things unfold from there.

“I wish my numbers were different and I created more, but I don’t really care. When I focus on the details — playing well on PK, PP, shutting down the top lane — it gives us the best chance to win. My numbers are bad but it is what it is, I don’t care. I’ve got to get back to doing what I love and that’s trying to win games.”

O’Reilly broke his foot on the PK blocking a shot by Minnesota’s Calen Addison in the second period of a 5-2 loss on Dec. 31. He took the skate off at halftime and it started to swell, but he felt fine when he got back on the ice.

“But after the game, the adrenaline wore off and it really started to gel,” O’Reilly said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is not good’.”

An MRI showed the break and the Blues announced that O’Reilly would be re-evaluated in six weeks, meaning his return would not come until mid-February. Since he can’t skate yet, he has been cycling, swimming and doing a lot of upper body work.

If all goes well, O’Reilly could be back shortly after the Blues return from the All-Star break and their bye week. However, that won’t leave a lot of time — perhaps as few as 10 games — before the league’s March 3 trade deadline.

“I just feel like there’s still time to come in and show that we can win here and we’re close,” O’Reilly said. “That’s why I want to be here, to be a part of it. But yes, at the same time I must (must) earn that place with my game. I have to earn that respect from this group and that belief that we can do it.”

Although a Blues’ outline would likely involve trading O’Reilly, he was asked if he would stick around if Armstrong decided to go that route.

“It’s something I don’t really want to think about and it’s something I have no control over,” O’Reilly said. “If that’s what happens, that’s when I want to see it again. But I don’t think we’re able to rebuild. I think we can win and can win here soon – this year or that next.

“As captain I think that has to be my focus and if I believe in it and I’m going to fight to the end for it, I think other guys will follow. It’s not going to be easy but we’re even there.”

So would O’Reilly consider a “team-friendly” discount to stay with the Blues through something like this?

“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “Yes, I want to make it work, but I also want to maintain my value. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and if we can’t succeed and you can’t do the job as a manager, then I could (see ) them get rid of me.

“So I have to protect myself. I don’t know (contract) numbers and stuff. Obviously the way we’re performing this year, the (salary) expectation is going to be a lot lower, but I still believe myself that I can be a very influential player. I hope I’m here and we have success for many years to come.”

Interestingly, O’Reilly does not have a no-trade clause in his contract, which is a seven-year, $52.5 million deal he signed with Buffalo in 2015. He was 24 years old at the time, but despite that he had 90 goals and 246 points in 427 NHL games at the time, he received no such protection from the Sabres.

“I don’t think it’s ever been on the table,” O’Reilly said. “Obviously it was a good trade at the time for a two-way center and not someone who had crazy numbers. At that age, still pretty young, it is what it is. You just hope (if you get traded) , you come to a team that is good and fighting.”

On July 1, 2018, O’Reilly was sent to a challenger in St. Louis, where he won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy in his first season with the Blues. But now four years later, he could be treated for a second time on the same deal.

“I’ve never really gone through that in the season,” O’Reilly said. “If we have (contract) talks and try to sort things out, that’s fantastic. But there is no point in speculating about ‘what if’. I really don’t want to give it any attention because it’s out of my control. Like the last time I was traded, it’s out of my hands.

“I want to be here and I want to do what I can to get back out there with these guys and make the playoffs. If something happens, something happens, but my whole focus is on getting healthy and trying to win. That’s why I don’t want to leave. I want to be a part of that and I think things will take care of themselves that way.”

O’Reilly will tell Armstrong.

“Yeah, that’s something, a conversation, I’m sure we’ll have it,” he said. “It’s between him and me, but yes, something will happen.”

(Top photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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