Another playoff disappointment—as well as a host of expiring player contracts—has left the Capitals with a ton of questions to answer this offseason. Over the next month, Jill Sorenson, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir will take a close look at the 20 biggest issues facing the team as the business of hockey kicks into high gear.
Brett Connolly hit a low point in his career in 2016 when the Boston Bruins elected not to offer him a qualifying offer thus making him an unrestricted free agent. Dropping from the No. 6 overall draft pick in the 2010 draft to not receiving a qualifying offer was a precipitous drop for Connolly, but he found a new home in Washington with a one-year deal. He made the most of his one season with the Caps with 15 goals and 23 points in 66 games despite playing fewer than 11 minutes a night. The season ended on a sour note, however, as Connolly watched the last six games of the playoffs from the press box as a healthy scratch. Now as a restricted free agent, the Caps own his rights and have a decision to make.
Today’s question: Should the Caps re-sign Brett Connolly?
Sorenson: Yes, I think the Caps should re-sign Brett Connolly and GM Brian MacLellan said they are actively working to do so right now. The right wing had a career year with 15 goals and 23 points, and even though he found himself out of the lineup in the playoffs, he proved he can be a valuable asset. Barry Trotz and the Caps will certainly communicate what they want from Connolly in the future, and with a roadmap on how to get there, Connolly will excel. The Caps need depth on their bottom six and having Connolly continue in that role for a minimal (comparatively) salary makes sense. In addition to lineup depth, he would also give the team yet another asset available when looking to upgrade their prospects. At 25, Connolly is still young and at least still a few years away from the best of his career, so to be able to have him in the fold should a deal arise involving younger prospects will only help the Caps in their quest to build depth. If the Caps move on from Connolly, they run the risk of not having that solid depth, and walking away from a valuable third line asset for their franchise.
Regan: For a team with salary cap concerns, re-signing a 25-year-old restricted free agent winger who registered 23 points in 66 games despite playing fewer than 11 minutes per night seems like a no-brainer. The Caps need productive and cheap players for the bottom six and Connolly fits the bill. I have just two concerns. First, I do not want to see him go to arbitration. His numbers are fairly solid and that may result in a number bigger than the Caps want to spend on a third-line player. Second, he has to earn Barry Trotz’s trust. Connolly was a healthy scratch to finish the postseason as Trotz elected to dress seven defensemen. Brian MacLellan told reporters that Connolly had a very good season and is working to bring him back next year. The coach and GM have to be on the same page about Connolly or it will turn into a Martin Erat/Dustin Penner situation in which a player can be productive if properly utilized, but get buried in the depth chart. I absolutely believe the Caps should re-sign Connolly, but only if they intend to use him.
El-Bashir: GM Brian MacLellan said earlier this week that the Caps are interested in bringing back Connolly and, in fact, have come close to reaching an agreement on a couple of occasions. I think it’s a smart move, despite the fact that Connolly didn’t play much (or produce a point) in the playoffs. It also jibes with the Caps’ need to plug holes in the bottom-six forward group with young and (relatively) inexpensive players who possess upside. Connolly, 25, fits that description. He earned less than every other full-time forward last season ($850,000) and is a restricted free agent. He also made the most of his 10:41 of ice time per game, popping a career-best 15 goals in 66 games. He’s got potential, no doubt and, on occasion last winter, showed flashes of his first-round pedigree. The question for me regarding Connolly is this: Can he earn Coach Barry Trotz’s trust and, thus, more ice time next season? He did okay in a brief audition on the second power play unit early in the season. He lit up the score sheet in January and February while skating on a very effective third line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. But Connolly also took the second most minor penalties per 60 minutes on the team (1.70) behind Tom Wilson (1.87) and was scratched for the final six games of the playoffs. So, yeah, there are still question marks in that regard. All that said, I feel the cost vs. potential benefit warrants another season (or two) for No. 10 in Washington.
MORE CAPITALS: No contract extension yet in the works for Trotz