A CALculated Risk: Will O’Reilly Turn Out To Be The Next Rich Peverley…or Worse?

A week ago, The Nashville Predators said goodbye to former prospect, forward, Cal O’Reilly (left), trading the former 2005 5th round (#150 overall) pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 4th-rounder in next June’s NHL Entry Draft. Given their similarities, fans wonder if the change of scenery might afford the talented but oft-injured centerman the opportunity to see his career blossom in a manner similar to that of former Nashville prospect, Rich Peverley (right), who now skates for the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins (Photos: Marianne Helm/Getty Images).

It Feels Like The First Time — And That’s NOT a Good Thing.
Although I understood it, I didn’t like it when I heard about it, and I prayed that it wouldn’t turn around and bite the Nashville Predators in the butt.

You may think I’m referring to last week’s trade of forward Cal O’Reilly to the Phoenix Coyotes. Well, that too, but actually, I was talking about the time that Nashville lost Rich Peverley to the Atlanta Thrashers (now known as the Winnipeg Jets) via waiver claim in January of 2009. As most Preds fans are painfully aware, Peverley went from patiently-developing Predators prospect to solid NHL performer, seemingly overnight following his Music City exodus.

Could the same thing happen with Cal O’Reilly? I believe that it could.

In referencing the players in question and their circumstances, it really doesn’t matter which one you’re talking about — they’re pretty much interchangeable. Both Pevs and Cal developed as natural centers — and natural playmakers in the AHL, and were more-or-less forced to play the wing on the NHL level. That’s the way that Predators’ Head Coach Barry Trotz likes to develop his centermen; easing them into the big-time responsibility of the NHL center position by starting them out on the wing, and thereby guaranteeing them the added versatility of being able to play at either post with confidence throughout their careers.

However, in thinking about this most recent departure involving O’Reilly, one of my personal favorites among the Preds’ young veterans, even I was shocked to learn just how similar he and Peverley are — not only in the positions they play, but in their relative statistical output and even in the way they play.

Both were standouts for the Preds’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. Peverley played 257 games in an Ads uniform and had an impressive points-per-game average of 0.937. O’Reilly was slightly better with a 0.965 average in 262 games.

On the NHL level, even now their relative differences are fairly slight. Peverley is currently 29 years of age, with 287 NHL games under his belt. O’Reilly just turned 25 years old, and with only 85 punches of the NHL timeclock, has yet to play more than 38 games in a season on the National League level. Interestingly enough, however, Peverley was only seven months older than Cal is right now when he left Nashville on January 10, 2009, with only 73 games of NHL experience at the time. O’Reilly could very well be on the verge of a career bust-out phase of his own.

As I watched the Predators skate against Phoenix on TeeVee Thursday night (thankfully, without Cal in the lineup), I thought, “Could history repeat itself? And what if it does?”

Let’s explore those questions.

I’ll have to beg the pardon of those of you who haven’t lived in Southern California within in the last 30 years for that subtitle (not to mention the following lengthy subtext), but if you did, hopefully you got the reference. It was a play on the highly overplayed TeeVee commercial jingle of a notorious new & used L.A.-based car salesman named Cal Worthington, an Oklahoma native who wore a white hat on camera, and seemed bent on pushing the boundaries of schtick in order to sell a car. His local fame propelled him into a few brief appearances in the movies and on network television shows, including The Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carson, so it’s entirely possible you’re at least familiar with his persona.

Now 90 years of age, Worthington’s advertisements were legendary in SoCal from the 1960s thru the 1990s. During the 22 years I lived in Long Beach, home of Worthington’s primary dealership, it seemed the commercials grew more and more outrageous with each passing year.

At the start of each ad, the voiceover announcer (none other than Worthington himself) would shrilly proclaim, “Here’s Cal Worthington and his dog, ‘Spot!’” and launch into his infectious, banjo-backed jingle, entreating viewers to, “Go see Cal, Go see Cal, Go see Cal!” Of course, ‘Spot’ was never a dog, but rather any number of exotic creatures, all used as nonsensical props in each commercial; from a Black Bear, to a Bengal Tiger, to a Chimpanzee, to an elephant.

As if that wasn’t enough, Worthington’s TeeVee ad exploits even included wing-walking on an old fixed-wing biplane (he was actually a distinguished Army Air Corps pilot in WW II as well as an aerobatics champion), as well as literally standing on his head on the hood of a car in one of his dealership lots (the most famous part of his jingle included the verse, “If you’re lookin’ for a better set of wheels, I will stand upon my head to beat all deals! I will stand upon my head, ‘til my EARS are turnin’ red! GoSeeCal, GoSeeCal, GoSeeCal…”).

Worthington’s histrionics were no doubt entertaining, but they had absolutely nothing to do with his actual business — or the quality thereof (sorta like this little vignette). And maybe that was by design (I know mine is…).

But lest I wander too far off the reservation here, I’ll resist the temptation to embed the rare Youtube video compilation of the best of Worthington’s TeeVee spots, including an even rarer full-length version of the jingle, including all TEN verses that were used, scattered amongst the dozens  (maybe, hundreds?) of commercials he made over the years. Nonetheless, do take the time to go here to check out the video later.

The bottom line is this: while his ads were amusing, it was no secret that the quality of the used cars he sold could be suspect. Cal’s dealerships have numerous times been embroiled in legal battles involving California’s ‘Lemon Law’ and the lack of viability of some of his used (and new) automobiles.  To put it lightly, one might say that buying a used car from Worthington has often been a CALculated risk.

For David Poile and the Predators, saying goodbye to Cal O’Reilly most certainly is (pun notwithstanding).

Fool Me Once
There have been thankfully scant few circumstances in which Poile’s actions have drawn a wince from the collective face of PredsNation. But even the best of sports execs have been forced to take a gamble, and at times, have ended up with the short straw. Such was the case with Poile’s decision to expose forward Rich Peverley to waivers on January 10, 2009.

Peverley at that point was one of the top all-around offensive prospects in the Nashville system, having split time between the parent club and Milwaukee since being signed to an NHL contract as an undrafted free agent in January of 2007. In each of his three primary seasons in Milwaukee (2005-06 thru 2007-08) Pevs was among the team’s top five scorers, and always among its top three in assists.

Peverley was and is a playmaker; a deft passer who, when paired with offensively-minded linemates could make things happen. Unfortunately, the Predators in those days (even more so than they are now), were a team with an over-abundance of passers; they were in need of someone who could and would put the biscuit in the basket.

Peverley got caught in a numbers game. While he played well during his three stints in the Nashville lineup, between 2006-07 and 2008-09, he never truly had the chance to match his AHL scoring output while serving mostly 3rd and 4th line duty at the NHL level. During Poile’s final attempt to sneak Peverley through waivers back to Milwaukee near the halfway point of the 2008-09 season, the Atlanta Thrashers snapped him up and immediately inserted him into their top line alongside dynamic scorer, Illya Kovalchuk. The change of scenery, increased ice time, and upgrade in linemate-talent had a dramatic impact on Peverley’s play.

In his first three games for the Thrashers, Pevs racked up six points, including three assists to help sink the Predators in a 7-2 route at Bridgestone Arena that didn’t sit well with anyone wearing blue and gold, not only because it would keep the Preds mired in what would become a 2-5 slump at the time, but mostly because the loss occurred just a week after Peverley had been claimed by Atlanta.

Quite frankly, since leaving the Predators, Peverley has blossomed, averaging 0.640 points per game. Last season, following a trade from Atlanta in February, he helped the Boston Bruins capture the Stanley Cup. In October, the Bruins rewarded him with a 3-year deal worth $3.25 million per year. At age 29, arguably, he’s still getting better.

Going into Thursday’s games, since leaving the Preds on January 10, 2009, Peverley has amassed 134 points. By way of comparison, Marty Erat has registered 124 points in the same interim; David Legwand, 111; Steve Sullivan, 108.

Is Peverley the one that got away? Did Poile get caught with his hand in the cookie jar? Would Pevs have developed into the player he became in Atlanta and Boston had he stayed in Music City? All are good questions, with no good answers.

Déjà -Doo-Doo All Over Again?
Not so coincidentally, with the 20/20 hindsight of Rich Perverley still burning a hole in my gut, I had to ask the same questions last week when Cal O’Reilly was traded. The circumstances of his departure were certainly different. It was Cal’s health issues over the last two seasons and not his fit in the team’s architecture that turned out to be the undoing of his viability as a Predator.

O’Reilly was rapidly developing into a reliable, playmaking center on the Predators’ top two lines last year when a broken leg in January ended his season, and likely, his career in Nashville. After being re-signed just prior to the start of this season, and again, looking great throughout the exhibition schedule and in the team’s opening night victory in Columbus, a nagging groin injury that occurred sometime between the second and fourth games of the season took him out of the lineup. He last played on Monday October 17th and was traded to Phoenix eleven days later, on Friday October 28th. According to Phoenix team sources, he could be ready to make his Coyotes debut this Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers, ironically, the team he last faced while still with Nashville.

While their circumstances were far from a carbon-copy of one another, the thought of Peverley’s departure, the blossoming of his career soon thereafter, and the potential for the same thing happening with an arguably more talented O’Reilly is a compelling one, to say the least. It would stand to reason that given the talent that Cal possesses, if he can stay healthy, he will certainly blossom with an opportunity similar to that which so benefited Peverley.

The good news is, at least this time the Predators didn’t lose a talented player outright, with no compensation. In exchange for Cal, the Preds received the Coyotes’ fourth-round pick in next June’s NHL Entry Draft, which some have already speculated may end up being packaged with existing prospects at some point this season to acquire another top-six forward for the playoff run. And while that may certainly aid and abet Nashville’s efforts to go even deeper into the playoffs this season, what if a blossoming Cal O’Reilly accomplishes a similar or even greater result in Phoenix; a Western Conference rival with a very similar profile to that of the Predators?

Good Night and Good Luck
The question, to be sure, on the mind of Poile’s critics as well as his supporters has to be whether he has now made it possible for lightning to strike twice. It’s something I’ve thought about all week, and only the Preds’ improved play of late has allowed me to come to the only reasonable conclusion.

I…we…have to let it go.

Whether Cal O’Reilly turns into a world-beater or an afterthought, he’s gone; his injuries and the progression of the team’s evolving makeup (particularly the advent of rookie Craig Smith) made him expendable. It’s nobody’s fault; that’s just the way the puck slides sometimes.

One of the acts that affirmed my lifetime membership in the Barry Trotz Fan Club occurred that fateful night when Rich Perverley led his new club into Nashville for a 7-2 butt-whooping of the home team in front of a sellout crowd, just a week after being claimed off the Nashville roster.

In his postgame remarks, Trotz said that he had told Peverley before he left town, not to have any sympathy for his former team when they crossed paths again. “He looks like he’s got more umph to his game, and I knew that was a dangerous type of thing. Some players, sometimes the change of scenery … first time he’s been really … put on waivers, he ended up having success with Kovalchuk. They clicked, and he’s scoring points. All those things you’re seeing in Rich Peverley are starting to come out now,” Trotz said after the game.

Barry Trotz believes in his players, even when they’re no longer his players. And while I’m certain he wasn’t happy about being spanked by a less-talented, ne’er-do-well of a squad like Atlanta was back then, I’m equally sure he was happy for Pevs, and for the opportunity he’d been given.

I have no doubt he feels the same for Cal O’Reilly, and so should we all — regardless of his future success.

So in my opinion, the upshot of all this is that we should join Poile and Trotz in acknowledging that sometimes chit happens; sometimes rosters change; sometimes injuries happen, causing contingencies that alter team chemistry and force changes to occur. Sometimes those changes come despite how much we’d prefer that they wouldn’t. And in those cases we simply have to move on and make the best of it.

Godspeed, Cal, and good luck.


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2 Responses to “A CALculated Risk: Will O’Reilly Turn Out To Be The Next Rich Peverley…or Worse?”

  1. Chris November 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Aj it is funny how much we think alike. When I first heard of the trade the first word out of my mouth was Peverly. When given a chance mainly due to early season injuries last season O’Reilly proved he could flourish, in fact I think at point last season he led all of the forwards in points. The one difference I see in the two is at the time of Peverly being claimed off waivers the Preds were still looking forwards to replace fire sale of 07. At the time Sully hadn’t returned and the question became “will he ever” instead of “when will he”? Along with trying to replace Rads. Also at the most of the young guys were not close to being NHL ready unlike now. So we all can hope that O’Reilly does not hurt us like Peverly did when he was with Atlanta especially since he is in the Western Conference. The night Peverly came in here he skated around our guys like they were standing still, a very difficult thing to watch. Like you said all we can do now is put it behind us and hope he does not turn into Peverly.

    One thing else they could have in common and I mean this with no pun intended as I never make fun or talk bad about a fan base. But here is another thought Peverly went to Atlanta which is now in Winnipeg and with still no ownership and attendance way down Phoenix could be on there way out also.

    • AJ in Nashville November 6, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      HA! That’s a great point about the state of the franchises both Pevs and Cal went to, Chris! However, I think that as far as the quality of the teams are concerned, PHX is a far site better than ATL/WPG. Also, as you say, I would be shocked if Cal said anything derogatory about Nashville; there’s a good reason that almost nobody ever has. Cal was given a fair shot; unfortunately the hockey gods just weren’t cooperating. I do wish him the best, but like I felt about Vern Fiddler when he left, I won’t be rooting for him when he’s playing against us. 😉

      Thanks as always for your astute comments! :)

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