As of right now, the Montreal Canadiens have 10 defencemen under contract for the 2019-20 season, and six pending free agents at the position. That doesn’t even include prospects like Scott Walford and Jarret Tyszka - who can be signed until June 1, nor any potential signings or additions come July 1 or before.
Needless to say, there can be a lot of changes to the Canadiens blue line coming and Mikey Reilly, who spent the entire 2018-19 season on the NHL roster, will be front and centre in any decisions that are made.
We already discussed the defenceman’s season and role on the team last season, but Reilly played in 57 games and was a regular on the defence for the first half of the season before being replaced by Brett Kulak, and eventually Christian Folin. He had three goals and eight assists on the year, providing a bit of production.
It was his first full season with the team, and he has now spent two straight seasons at the NHL level.
Now, like we mentioned a few days ago, the Canadiens aren’t exactly in a position to just give up NHL defencemen. Reilly would only need a qualifying offer of 105% from his previous salary which was $725,000 which means it would be a raise of under $40,000 to keep his rights. Reilly would be eligible for arbitration which does add a wrinkle into things.
The Canadiens have chosen to not qualify players who were entering restricted free agency, but the only time they have done it to a player with no AHL time was with Nikita Nesterov, who had a signed contract with the KHL and only played 15 regular season and playoff games with Montreal.
The most notable player not qualified was Daniel Carr, who was shuttled between the AHL and NHL.
That would indicate that Reilly should at least be at training camp in September. Evolving Wild has his estimated contract at two years and slightly over $1.3 million per year which would be a perfectly fine number for a guy like Reilly. And if it is any indication, it may be higher than what will eventually be signed. Christian Folin signed for one year and $800,000 and he was entering unrestricted free agency. The projections for Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal were also higher than what was signed. (Folin signed before the projections were released.) If you figure Reilly’s contract at between $800,000 and $1.3 million, that’s value you can definitely tolerate.
The Canadiens also have to sign Brett Kulak, and he’s sure to fill a bigger hole than Reilly. They have to sign Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen as well, and then the targets become Reilly, Charles Hudon, and oft-forgotten defenceman Gustav Olofsson.
The fact remains that the case for signing Reilly is a lot more sound - especially value-wise - than paying too much for Jordie Benn. If the Canadiens qualify Reilly, it simply adds flexibility. If they do add more depth to the defence by trade or unrestricted free agency, Reilly, who turns 26 in July, becomes an asset you can trade or he accepts his qualifying offer.
It should be a no brainer for the Canadiens, even if Reilly doesn’t have a defined role as we stand right now. There is value in Reilly’s presence in the organization and there is value in Reilly’s probable contract. The landscape of the Canadiens defence may change a lot between now and October, but that’s no reason to not keep Reilly in the fold.