NHL defensemen market shifts: Bruins keep Reilly, Jets trade for Schmidt

NHL defensemen market shifts: Bruins keep Reilly, Jets trade for Schmidt
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With 2021 NHL Free Agency less than 24 hours away, the defensemen market is still shifting. In the case of the Bruins, it boils down to making sure Mike Reilly doesn’t hit the free-agent market. For the Jets, it was instead about going the trade route, as they continued their defensive makeover by snatching Nate Schmidt from the Canucks.

Let’s dive into each move. (Note that the Bruins haven’t confirmed Reilly’s contract yet. The Jets confirmed the Nate Schmidt trade.)

Also, to keep up with all the contract signings (before, and during 2021 NHL Free Agency), head to PHT’s tracker. You can also follow all of the trades here.

Schmidt trade the biggest gamble in Jets’ defensive makeover

Despite his stats looking rougher on paper, people hyped up Connor Hellebuyck as a Vezina finalist, in part, because the Winnipeg Jets’ defense was just so flat-out lousy.

Like the Flyers, Blackhawks, and other teams, the Jets have already invested heavily in defensemen even before 2021 NHL Free Agency “officially” “begins.” Review their recent defense-related moves.

  • First, some dumb luck. The Kraken could’ve taken underrated defenseman Dylan DeMelo. Instead, they snatched Mason Appleton, a forward. Appleton’s defensive impact is quite positive for a forward, but the Jets could use all of the defensive help they can get from the blueline proper. So that was a nice win.
  • On Monday, the Jets traded two second-round picks to the Capitals for Brenden Dillon. Like DeMelo, Dillon is an underrated defenseman who the Kraken maybe should’ve selected. (Heck, maybe the Kraken should’ve picked Dillon just to flip him to the Jets? Anyway …)
  • Finally, a day before the “Free Agent Frenzy” can kick in, the Jets traded for Nate Schmidt.

Schmidt, 30, ranked as one of the Golden Knights’ greatest expansion-draft finds. By doing so, he earned a contract that carries a $5.95M AAV through 2024-25 (four more seasons). That contract ended up being too rich for Vegas, at least once they set their sights on Alex Pietrangelo.

The defense-needy Canucks pounced on Schmidt, and he suffered through a brutal 2020-21 season. Now the Jets are gambling that they’ll see more of Golden Knights Schmidt than Canucks Schmidt.

It’s an interesting situation. If it’s systemic, well, the Jets and Canucks both have underwhelmed on defense. But maybe Schmidt would simply thrive with a clean slate?

If nothing else, adding Schmidt and Dillon (along with not losing DeMelo) makes the Jets’ defense more experienced.

The key for the Canucks is that, while their return was limited (reportedly a third-rounder in 2022), the Jets appeared to have taken on the full brunt of Schmidt’s contract.

That’s another big development for the Canucks, who bought out Holtby and signed Conor Garland before 2021 NHL Free Agency.

Bruins bring back another nice trade deadline find: Mike Reilly

When people think of trade-deadline additions who paid off for the Bruins, they think of Taylor Hall. In subtler ways, Mike Reilly provided a very nice boost for the Bruins’ defense.

Like Hall, Mike Reilly’s reportedly sticking around. Pierre LeBrun reports that Reilly, 28, signed a three-year contract that carries a $3M cap hit.

Reilly shined from a broader analytics perspective …

… To grading well when you dig in more specifically to transition stats.

Really, that’s another way Reilly echoes Taylor Hall: they both helped the Bruins move the puck more efficiently.

Via Cap Friendly, the Bruins now have about $17M in cap space with 18 roster spots covered. They still have work to do, including in net (both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are UFAs) and also if they want to bring back David Krejci.

Whatever happens there, the Bruins re-signing Reilly sure seems smart.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.