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.)
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.
Here's Nate Schmidt's card, which took a turn for the worse last year with Vancouver. Comps aren't friendly. pic.twitter.com/huWXxL1QZs
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) July 27, 2021
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.
This goes without saying but confirming the obvious, the Canucks are not retaining any salary on Nate Schmidt ($5.95M AAV, four more years). The Jets take the full contract on.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 27, 2021
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 …
It looks like Mike Reilly is getting close to re-signing with the Boston Bruins per @RussoHockey. Yes, it would be another great move by Sweeney (along with Krejci). Mike Reilly played amazing hockey in the last season. We're curious on more details. pic.twitter.com/dJFg9Z3VKX
— Andy & Rono 📊 (@HockeyStatsCZ) July 27, 2021
… To grading well when you dig in more specifically to transition stats.
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) July 27, 2021
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.