Bruins

Connolly motivated to 'prove people wrong' with big year

bruins_connolly.jpg

Connolly motivated to 'prove people wrong' with big year

WILMINGTON, Mass. – Brett Connolly has no shortage of motivation headed into his first full season with the Boston Bruins.

The 23-year-old was traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Bruins at last spring’s trade deadline and shortly thereafter, a Dennis Seidenberg shot busted up his finger in just his second practice with his new team.

“It was a weird year,” said Connolly, accurately describing his first few months in Boston.

Connolly managed to rack up a couple of assists in a handful of games at the end of the season but Boston missed the playoffs in collapsing fashion. The big right winger missed a chance to make a real impression on the organization, the fans and his own teammates with just those five appearances while shaking off the injury rust.

Interestingly enough, Connolly opted for a one-year contract as a restricted free agent for slightly over $1 million with the Bruins and now finds himself with plenty of fresh motivation to prove people wrong. A good season will bring him a healthy, bigger contract, and it will be a stick salute to those he feels might have bailed on him as a player prematurely.

“Yeah…obviously it’s something that just wasn’t meant to be,” said Connolly of his departure from the Lightning. “It was something where they felt that I was a guy they could move and get something for. Steve [Yzerman] chose to move me obviously. I was in the organization for a while, and didn’t have as much success as I obviously would have liked to have. But that’s the good thing about change. I’m really excited to be here [in Boston], and I can’t wait to get going.

“There are a lot of people out there, including Tampa, that I want to prove wrong. That started yesterday and today, and I’m looking to have a good year.”

Clearly Connolly is betting on himself with the one-year contract, and he finds himself in the first real open forward situation of his career. He could land anywhere, from the top line skating with David Krejci as a right wing gunner, to a big-bodied compliment to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, or on the third line with a player -- Ryan Spooner -- that he skated with on tournament teams during their Canadian youth.

Whichever spot Connolly fills in on the right side it would be some place where he can use his size and skills to finally score some goals.

Certainly the Bruins envisioned another player in Connolly that could give them some Nathan Horton-like qualities on the right side, but he’ll have to show it where it matters most: on the ice. He was a 30-goal guy in the AHL, but Connolly hasn’t really enjoyed a legitimate chance to show what kind of front line player he could be in the NHL.

Connolly was simply a third line spare part among a stacked group of Tampa Bay forwards despite being the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft, and managed just 12 goals and 15 points in 55 games for Tampa and Boston combined last year. So now the six-foot-two, 193-pounder knows the onus is on him to win a job in training camp on one of the top three lines, prove that he deserves power play time with his strong right shot and start realizing his full potential once and for all.

“I kind of wanted a one-year deal to prove to the organization that I want to be [in Boston] long term, and also to prove that I can play a big role on this team,” said Connolly. “I was very happy with that, and I’m really excited to get this year going.

“Last year I had a few injuries, but I had a really good summer, worked hard and think I’m coming into camp here in good shape. I’m looking to have a good training camp and get off to a good start. That’s not only what I’m focused on, but the team too: to get off to a good start, so I’m chomping at the bit right away here in training camp.”

With Connolly, David Pastrnak and Jimmy Hayes, the Bruins should be equally excited to see what they have on their new look right side, and the former Tampa Bay winger should play a big role there while proving plenty on the ice. 

NHL free agents 2019: Ranking top 25 players available this offseason

NHL free agents 2019: Ranking top 25 players available this offseason

The 2019 NHL Draft is scheduled to begin Friday, and less than two weeks later free agency will open for all 31 teams.

It's going to be a busy and important couple of weeks for franchises looking to make major changes to their rosters with the hope of winning the Stanley Cup in 2020 and beyond.

Let's take a look at the top unrestricted and restricted free agents that could hit the market in July.

Click here for the top 25 free agents of the 2019 NHL offseason>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Bruins plan to address Bruce Cassidy's contract as he enters final year of the deal

Bruins plan to address Bruce Cassidy's contract as he enters final year of the deal

As Bruce Cassidy enters the final year of his contract as head coach of the Boston Bruins, it probably goes without saying that he deserves an extension. 

The good news for B's fans, according to Joe McDonald of The Athletic, Boston is pleased with Cassidy's performance and plans to address his contract. 

'He’s under contract, so we have decisions that we’re going to progress with, and he’ll be part of that,' general manager Don Sweeney said. 'He’s under contract, so it’s not a concern right now, but we will address it.'

After a 107-point 2018-19 campaign, good for the second-best mark in the NHL, Cassidy led the Bruins to the brink of a Stanley Cup only to fall in Game 7 at TD Garden to the St. Louis Blues.

One of the major themes of this year's Bruins team was their resiliency under Cassidy. Boston fought back from a 3-2 deficit in the first round of the playoffs against Toronto and a 2-1 deficit against Columbus to win those series, and then won another Game 6 on the road down 3-2 to the Blues. 

The Bruins have made the playoffs in each of their first three seasons with Cassidy leading the charge, improving their finish in the postseason each year. 

BRUINS UNDER CASSIDY

2016-17: 44-31-7 (95 points), lost in the first round (4-2)
2017-18: 50-20-12 (112 points), lost in the second round (4-1)
2018-19 49-24-9 (107 points), lost in Stanley Cup Final (4-3)

Cassidy is the second-fastest Bruins coach to reach 100 wins as he has cemented himself as one of the best coaches in the league. And team President Cam Neely certainly thinks highly of him. 

'He’s done a very good job for us, obviously,' Neely said. 'Coming in when he did and getting us to the playoffs and then almost having two, back-to-back 50-win seasons — pretty impressive. He learned from our playoff losses and how to maybe coach a little bit differently in the playoffs.'

We'll see if the Bruins extend Cassidy before the 2019-20 season starts, but it definitely seems like they view him as their long term answer on the Black and Gold's bench. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.