If the Avalanche wants to keep Ryan O'Reilly, it will have to pay him $6.5 million, at least for the 2014-15 season. Under the rules of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, for a team to retain the rights of a potential restricted free agent, it must offer a contract equal in salary to the previous year of his deal.

Even though O'Reilly's cap hit to the Avs is $5 million, the last base salary is what must be adhered to, so $6.5 million it will be to retain his services beyond this season.

So here's the situation if that happens: O'Reilly would be paid more than Matt Duchene. Or, more than anyone else on the Avs, assuming all things stay equal. Will the big-money fight between the Avs and O'Reilly — the one that saw him miss half of last season — happen again? Or, come Feb. 28, will they have already traded him and not had to deal with him anymore?

Stay tuned, because it could get interesting again. Duchene signed a five-year, $30 million contract extension last summer that won't kick in until next season. When it does, his cap hit and annual salary will be an even $6 million for each of the five seasons.

O'Reilly's current contract terms were dictated by the Calgary Flames, who gave him a two-year offer as a restricted free agent last season. The Avs, who were trying to trade him at the time, were forced to match the offer.

Since then, an uneasy truce has existed between player and team. Before the offer was matched, the Avs made it known to many in the industry they considered Duchene tops in their pecking order of salary structure. But facing an unanticipated decision forced upon them by Calgary, the Avs swallowed their pride and kept O'Reilly.

The question is: Will they swallow it one more time to keep him beyond Feb. 28 and/or whatever date of the final game of their season?

O'Reilly has played very well this season, playing a new position (left wing mostly, but sometimes on the right side). He had 28 points (13 goals) in his first 41 games, and added plenty of value as a defensive forward.

Anyone with two working eyes who watched the Avs' game against Philadelphia on Thursday could see the kinds of things O'Reilly can give a team. Not only did he score the game-winning goal, he created it with a steal in the defensive zone before migrating nearly 200 feet to chip a puck past goalie Steve Mason.

O'Reilly's true value doesn't come with just goals and assists. He has anticipation of where the puck will go reminiscent of Peter Forsberg. He cuts off many plays before they can get started for the opposition with his defensive instincts. He makes smart decisions in tight spaces, especially cycling in the offensive zone and getting it out in the defensive zone.

The Avs had better not draw some dumb line in the sand, like they did last time by saying "We won't pay anyone a dime more than Duchene, no matter what." O'Reilly's contract status is a unique situation, dictated partially by Colorado's feet-dragging until Calgary — dirty pool or not — exercised a right under the old CBA.