In search of salary cap space, the Wild traded Minnesota native Mike Reilly to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, marking the end of the 24-year-old blue liner’s career with his homestate team.
Reilly had 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) in 38 games with the Wild this season, and carried a $725,000 cap hit, which the Wild will now be relieved of.
A standout with Academy of Holy Angels in high school and the University of Minnesota in college, Reilly was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fourth round in 2011. He hit the open market after failing to reach a deal with the team after the 2014-15 season and instantly became one of the most sought-after collegiate free agents.
He signed a two-year, $1.85 million contract with the Wild on July 1, 2015 after a sweepstakes that featured him meeting with as many as 10 teams. He re-signed with Minnesota on July 1, 2017 for $1.45 million over two years before falling out of the rotation this season.
“I think we all felt that it would work better than what it did, and that’s not a reflection on him at all,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We were fortunate to get him, but I think at some point it’s important to do the right thing, too. If it’s not going to work here, we needed to give him a chance to get his career going.”
Besides that trade, the Wild didn’t pull the trigger on any other moves despite rumors swirling around Matt Cullen and a potential reunion with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins
Fletcher smiled when asked whether Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was uber aggressive in trying to get Cullen. He added that the front office had “some interesting conversations” with teams, stopping short of divulging any details of those discussions.
“From our standpoint, our goals going (into the trade deadline) were pretty modest in large part because we like the way our team’s been playing the last little while,” Fletcher said. “To pay big prices right now, from a salary cap perspective, it wasn’t possible to get involved in some of the players.”
Still, with top-tier Central Division teams loading up on Monday — the first-place Nashville Predators flipped a first-round pick for center Ryan Hartman early in the day and the second-place Winnipeg Jets followed suit by trading a first-round pick for center Paul Stastny — there could have been pressure for the Wild to feel like they had to make a big splash to keep up.
Did they feel that pressure in the war room?
“Not at all,” Fletcher said. “We knew some of these teams would make big pushes. For us, it’s about our group. If we play the way we can play, we’re a very competitive team.”
Plus, as far as Fletcher was concerned, the asking price for some of the high-end rental players was going to be too much. He made it very clear that the team’s first-round draft pick this summer “wasn’t in play” this season after he traded a first-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes last season to acquire Martin Hanzal and Ryan White.
“We took (the first-round pick) away from (our scouts) last season — I did,” Fletcher said. “It was important for them to have a first-round pick (this season).”
After trading Reilly and allowing Chris Stewart to be claimed off waivers by the Calgary Flames, the Wild have about $2.63 million in salary cap space, which should allow them to call up Luke Kunin from the minors at some point as well as sign Jordan Greenway out of Boston University once his college season ends.
“We have players that can bring some youth and some energy and some grit,” Fletcher said, saying that type of flexibility was something the team lacked last season. “We had a really tough stretch (last March), and I just remember thinking it’d be great if had a 20- or 21-year-old we could bring in to maybe give us a shot in the arm.”
That will be an option this time around. But the biggest takeaway from the trade deadline is that Fletcher left the core of the team in tact, essentially betting on a group that has been one of the best teams in the NHL over the past 3 1/2 months.
“I believe in this group,” Fletcher said. “I think they’ve earned the right to show what they can do.”