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Above the 49: O'Reilly saga raises concerns of Flames' direction

The Ryan O'Reilly saga last week left a considerable amount of egg on the face of the Calgary Flames, but the entire scenario should leave their fans more concerned than embarrassed.

The Flames, as has been well-documented, made a bold yet miscalculated attempt at snaring the former restricted free agent from the Colorado Avalanche by way of offer sheet.

What they had not realized at the time was, in a story first broke by reporter Chris Johnston of Sportsnet in Canada, had they been successful, they would not only have been forced to send the Avalanche compensation - in this case first- and third-round draft picks - but would have almost certainly lost O'Reilly as well due to a CBA rule that would have necessitated his exposure on the waiver wire.

However, it's not the Flames' misinterpretation of the new CBA rule that should have fans worried but rather the path the franchise has indicated they want to go down by making such a move in the first place.

While acquiring the 22-year-old O'Reilly would have marked a step in the right direction for a team that should be looking toward a youth movement - their average age is 29.4 - surrendering a pair of draft picks, including one that has a high chance of being a lottery pick, is a truly baffling move considering the Flames aren't exactly well-stocked in the prospects department.

Beyond 2011 first rounder Sven Baertschi, who has struggled this season since making the jump to the NHL full-time, but had been putting up decent numbers at the AHL level in his first season as a pro, there isn't a long line of up-and-coming players for Flames fans to get excited over and certainly none in their system who are considered sure-fire future superstars.

At the same time, the price the Flames were willing to hand over to a player who has yet to show he belongs among the league's elite is perplexing.

While his average cap hit of $5 million isn't necessarily out of line with other second-line centers around the league, the $6.5 million they were to pay O'Reilly in 2013-14 - the final year of his contract before he returns to restricted free agent status - meant the Flames would have to commit to making him essentially their franchise player in two years time when he would be due for a salary increase, or else risk having him turn into a very expensive two- year rental.

It's frightening to think a team that hasn't made the postseason in three straight seasons and ought to be leaning toward a rebuild would be willing to dole out that much for a rental player.

It's even more frightening, however, to think they would be willing to make a franchise-altering move seemingly on a whim. They would be overpaying a player who has yet to show he is more than a solid second-line center and making him the focal point of their team as if they hadn't learned their lessons from the past, when they've similarly handed out or acquired big-money contracts for players such as Olli Jokinen or Jay Bouwmeester that have yielded little value in return.

The Flames caught a break in more ways than one with the Avalanche deciding to match their offer sheet to O'Reilly, but if this whole saga is an indication of the direction that Calgary wants to be headed in, then there might be bigger issues the franchise and its fan base will have to suffer through in the near future.

And next time, there might not be a reset button.