At the start of the season, Mike Reilly looked like a key part of Montreal’s defence corps. But once he came out of the lineup he rarely got back in which creates an intriguing decision for the team on the pending restricted free agent.
After a strong showing upon being acquired from Minnesota the year before, Reilly picked up where he left off. He was tasked with playing a big role right away, logging at least 20:43 over his first nine games of the season. He wasn’t producing a lot but he looked comfortable playing Montreal’s more up-tempo pace and praised the coaches for showing confidence in him.
After the first month of the season, Claude Julien’s faith in him started to drop. Reilly started to play a bit less but despite the reduced role, he was pretty close to being an every game regular. The recalls of Brett Kulak and Victor Mete paid dividends for the Habs which resulted in another dip in playing time around mid-December but again, he was still in the lineup pretty much every night, playing a bigger role than he had with the Wild. Things were still looking up for him.
Then came the trade for Christian Folin. It took a few games for him to get into the lineup but when he did, it was Reilly that lost his spot. He never really got it back, playing just one game from March onward as Jordie Benn moved over to fill the other spot on the left side. Over the span of a few months, he went from a top-four player to a third pairing guy to a near-permanent healthy scratch. Needless to say, that makes his future with the team uncertain.
57 GP, 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, even rating, 16 PIMS, 101 shots, 54.6 CF%, 18:41 ATOI
Argument To Qualify
Each year, it seems like teams are asking for defenders to be more aggressive with the puck on their stick and either make a quick pass or skate it out of the defensive zone themselves. These are Reilly’s best attributes so letting go of someone whose skillset fits the modern defender carries some risk. Montreal’s left-shot defensive depth isn’t particularly strong so while Reilly probably isn’t going to be a core piece, it may not be the best idea to get rid of one of the better lefties they currently have.
While he’s going to be in line for a raise after earning $775,000 in salary last season, it’s not going to be a crazy amount that they can’t afford. Giving him the qualifier would also give them a small cushion if they do try to acquire an upgrade in free agency (or via trade) and fail to do so. At least that way, they’d still have Reilly around over trying to find a replacement for him as well.
Argument To Let Go
I have a hard time thinking that GM Marc Bergevin won’t wind up doing something to improve the left side of the back end this summer. It has been a major issue for two years now and everyone knows it. Eventually, something will be done about it. Mete and Kulak probably aren’t going anywhere so, between them and the eventual new guy, there isn’t a regular spot in the lineup for him and assuming Noah Juulsen is ready to play next season, Folin will occupy the number seven spot. There isn’t really a spot for Reilly who has complained in the past about being in a reserve role as he was frequently in Minnesota.
Reilly’s possession numbers were certainly a positive this past season but they don’t completely mask his defensive deficiencies. He’s prone to some real head-scratching decisions and considering he has four pro seasons under his belt now, it’s fair to question whether he’ll be able to improve on his decision making much more. Julien’s decision to keep Folin in over Reilly down the stretch shows that he prefers defensive reliability over offensive upside and Reilly has a long way to go to become defensively reliable.
As an arbitration-eligible player, I could see the Habs being wary of Reilly’s agent using his fairly high ATOI to get him a raise into the $1.25 million range (or more) this summer. That’s probably a bit much for Montreal’s liking as they may have better plans for their cap space. Accordingly, I suspect he, likely many fringe blueliners in his situation around the league, won’t get a qualifying offer.
However, I can see a scenario where he comes back. If he’s willing to take an offer in the $900,000 range (a small raise over what he made last year), that price tag would make it worthwhile to give him another chance. We know Bergevin likes defensive depth and if he winds up not making the team and is lost on waivers, so be it. However, if Reilly’s looking for more money than that or a more guaranteed path to playing time, he’ll be signing elsewhere this summer.
Other Articles in this Series: