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Russo's Rants

Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Former U star Reilly to meet with NHL teams, Wild interested

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.

A reminder, the Stanley Cup Final between Chicago and Tampa Bay starts tonight. Here is my column from today’s paper and a chart that ran with the story.

Wild, Devan Dubnyk to begin contract talks

Happy June 1 everybody.

Just a few brief Wild updates:

1. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr, who were in Exuma the past week on a retreat with owner Craig Leipold and others, have arrived in Buffalo for the scouting combine.

Besides the fact that Fletcher, Flahr and the rest of the scouting staff will meet with scores of draft-eligible players, this is also an opportunity for Fletcher to begin talking to fellow GM's about trades and also agents about contracts.

Fletcher will sit down for the first time this week with agent Mike Liut, the former NHL goalie, to begin Devan Dubnyk contract talks. Don't be alarmed that the sides haven't spoken yet. Liut was vacationing in Mexico, and when he returned, Fletcher left for the Bahamas on Wednesday. They were supposed to speak for the first time this past Tuesday, but they decided to push it back so they can meet in person in Buffalo.

As you know by now, both sides have talked positively about how there was a mutual fit in the second half. Now it's just a matter of finding a mutual agreement on term and price.

That could be easier said than done, but it's clear both sides want to make it work and strike a deal preferably before the draft so there's no threat of Dubnyk entering the free-agent interview period prior to July 1. That would give Liut the opportunity to see what else is out there by meeting with teams during the week of the draft in South Florida.

I also believe Fletcher will sit down with the agent for potential restricted free agent Mikael Granlund this week.

2. Today is the deadline to sign 2013 draft picks or they can re-enter the draft. The Wild decided not to sign Alexandre Belanger, a Cape Breton goalie who was taken in the seventh round two years ago. The only other unsigned draft picks from 2013 are Carson Soucy, Avery Peterson and Nolan De Jong. All three are returning to college, and thus the Wild retains their rights.

Gustav Olofsson, Kurtis Gabriel and Dylan Labbe from the 2013 draft were previously signed.

3. If you keep your own excel files on such things, I don't believe I previously reported the entry-level contract prices of some players signed in the past few months:

Zach Palmquist was a one-year deal worth $692,500. Brody Hoffman was a one-year deal worth $925,000. Grayson Downing was a two-year deal worth $692,500 a year. Pavel Jenys was a three-year deal worth $655,000, $680,000 and $730,000. Labbe was a three-year deal worth $667,500 the first two years and $742,500.

Those prices are obviously only when they're in the NHL (pro-rated by day).

4. Barring a trade, the Wild will select 20th in the first round at the June 26 draft in Sunrise, Fla. On June 27, barring trades, the Wild has a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and two seventh-round picks.

The Wild traded its third-rounder for Dubnyk and its fifth-rounder along with Justin Falk to Columbus for Jordan Leopold.

5. Lastly, please keep Dakota Case and his entire family in your thoughts and prayers. The 24-year-old is fighting for his life in ICU at an Omaha, Nebraska, hospital with heart failure and pneumonia. It sounds like he is in rough shape, but his family is at his side.

Dakota is one of the most passionate Wild fans I've ever come across on Twitter. If you want to send Dakota a message, his Twitter account is dakota_case.

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