The one NY Islanders free agent worthy of a contract extension

Nobody would complain if this defenseman returns to Long Island in 2024-25.
Apr 30, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Mike Reilly (2) is
Apr 30, 2024; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Mike Reilly (2) is / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Islanders will be watching the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs from their television sets this May and June. While they await the results, the coaching staff and front office will begin preparation for this upcoming offseason. The first item on the to-do list will be the NHL draft, which is set to begin with first-round selections on June 28th in Paradise, Nevada. Having made the postseason, the Islanders are not in the draft lottery and will not know their official selection number until May 7th. 

The second item on Lou Lamoriello's checklist will be free agency, which is set to begin on its recurring date of July 1st. Until the postseason is completed, the Islanders do not have free will to negotiate with any external free agent such as winger Jake Guentzel or centerman Sam Reinhart. With limited cap space of just $5.5 million per Spotrac, don't expect the front office to be aggressive in pursuing top free agents.

However, the Islanders are permitted to talk about contract extensions with their pending restricted free agents. It seems universal that the team is ready to move on from some of its most coveted veteran players as they reach the twilight of their careers such as Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. Other free agents we expect to just forget about come July 1st such as Robert Bortuzzo, but Lamoriello has handed out bizarre contracts before. In reviewing the Isles' expiring contracts, there is one player we would all welcome back for the 2024-25 season.

Mike Reilly is worthy of a contract extension

Every Islanders playoff team seems to have an unsung hero who came out of nowhere and helped the team clinch a divisional or wild-card berth. In 2019, Robin Lehner earned the Bill Masterson Trophy after having his career-best performance under Barry Trotz's tutelage. In 2020, Scott Mayfield was an integral piece to the Isles' success playing in the postseason bubble. In 2021, Anthony Beauvillier scored countless game-winning goals including in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

In 2023-24, the argument can be made left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly saved the Islanders' season. The 30-year-old started his season with the Florida Panthers as the seventh defenseman coming off the bench. After being placed on waivers in mid-November, the Islanders suffered a cavalcade of injuries on the blue line. Sebastian Aho, Mayfield, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock all missed time before the calendar year could even turn.

Reilly arrived as a flyer to just hold down the fort until Aho and Pelech could make their returns. However, once Reilly began playing regularly on the Islanders' blue line, he would never return to a bench role. In 59 games played, Reilly scored 6 goals and recorded 18 assists. He also showed more defensive ability this season than in the past, having a career-best 60 blocked shots.

With Aho also set to become a free agent on July 1st, the Islanders will be without a left-handed bottom complement to pair with Mayfield. Of the cast of free agents both internally and externally, there is no question Reilly makes the most sense to return. Keep in mind, that Mayfield's best performances have come playing alongside offensively skilled juggernauts like Devon Toews in 2021 and Aho in 2023. If Lamoriello can remain cap-friendly this offseason and potentially move some bad contracts like Pierre Engvall, fans would welcome the return of Reilly in 2024-25.