Mike Reilly, who just returned from a three-week dream trip to China with brothers Connor and Ryan, is getting a head start toward free agency.
The former University of Minnesota defenseman, who can become a free agent June 15, is on his way to the NHL Combine in Buffalo today to meet with a handful of teams through Friday, multiple sources say.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted Reilly 98th overall in 2011, have an exclusive window to sign Reilly to a two-year, entry-level contract until June 15. However, the team has given the 21-year-old permission to talk with a limited number of teams before then, sources say.
Reilly, who decommitting from the U triggered his route to free agency, can’t officially sign until July 1.
It’s believed two of the teams Reilly will meet with this week are the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks. I have heard in the past the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings are also showing interest in the 2015 Hobey Baker finalist and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The Blue Jackets believe they’re still in the mix, too, although it’d be pretty surprising if after all of this Reilly simply circles back and signs with the team he could have signed with the past two offseasons.
From everybody I have talked to, I believe that as of right now the Blackhawks are the frontrunners.
As I wrote last week, there are entry-level parameters, so it’s not like any team can sweeten offers. This will come down to which team sells their program best to Reilly and where he sees the best fit and clearest path to the NHL.
The Blackhawks could be selling to the left-shot, mobile Reilly that he’s the eventual Nick Leddy replacement. They dealt Leddy to the Islanders before this past season in a salary-cap move, and the Blackhawks will once again be in a severe cap crunch in a couple of weeks.
They have basically no cap space and have yet to re-sign potential restricted free agent Brandon Saad. That means defenseman Johnny Oduya could be gone in free agency and they’ll likely try to trade forwards Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp. If unable to trade them, it has been speculated by some that Chicago may be forced to move defenseman Brent Seabrook to squeeze under the cap. Seabrook is a year from potential unrestricted free agency.
Regardless, with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane starting identical eight-year, $84 million contracts next season (annual $10.5 million cap hits each), the Blackhawks will have to start filling in spots with cheaper contracts.
When it comes to the Wild, Reilly will have to decide if there’s a door open to eventually be in a Wild sweater.
Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella are signed long-term.
Jared Spurgeon has one more year left on his contract before he will command a long-term extension. If the Wild decides it can’t commit to that, he could be traded this summer, next season or next summer.
Matt Dumba has one more year left on his contract. Like Brodin and Charlie Coyle coming out of their entry-level deals, the Wild will probably talk to Dumba about an extension this summer and maybe try to get it done sooner rather than later.
It makes sense for the Wild to have significant interest in Reilly.
Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson and Dylan Labbe are their best professional prospects (excluding Dumba). Olofsson lost a big developmental season this past season, playing only one AHL game before undergoing season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in his shoulder. He practiced the last two months of the season and was supposed to play the last week of the season. That never happened out of an abundance of caution.
Reilly, along with brothers Connor and Ryan, helped BCHL Penticton to RBC Cup and Doyle Cup championships in 2011-12. He led BCHL defensemen with 24 goals, 59 assists and 83 points and won the BCHL Interior Conference Best Defenseman Award.
Reilly also played at Shattuck St. Mary’s where he won a national championship in 2010-11 and Holy Angels.
In three years at the U, Reilly scored 18 goals and 89 points in 117 games.
He led NCAA defensemen his junior year with 42 points and was the first Gophers defenseman to lead the team in scoring since Mike Crowley tallied 56 points in 1996-97. He tied for third among all NCAA players with 36 assists (led defensemen), ranked first among all NCAA skaters with 19 power-play assists and earned First Team All-America and Big Ten honors for a second consecutive season.
Reilly’s dad, Mike, is a minority investor with the Wild’s ownership group.