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20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Capitals re-sign Brett Connolly?

20 offseason Caps questions: Should the Capitals re-sign Brett Connolly?

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.

RELATED: Date released for Caps Fan Fest and Alumni Exhibition

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

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Red Penguins: The story you've never heard about the Penguins' partnership with Russia's Red Army hockey team

Red Penguins: The story you've never heard about the Penguins' partnership with Russia's Red Army hockey team

It may be the greatest hockey story you've never heard of and it's almost too crazy to believe.

The upcoming Universal documentary Red Penguins tells the story of how the Pittsburgh Penguins developed a partnership with a Russian hockey team. But it wasn't just any hockey team, it was CSKA Moscow, the government-run Red Army hockey team, the most storied hockey team in Russia. They had no idea what they were in for.

Barely three minutes into the movie produced by Gabe Polsky - whose 2014 documentary "Red Army" covered the four decades of dominance by the Russian national hockey team from the 1950s to the 1990s - and you are quickly caught up in a wild ride with Howard Baldwin and Tom Ruta, Pittsburgh's owners at the time, talking about how crazy the idea of getting involved with CSKA really was.

It's never really clear who had the idea and who approached them to form the partnership so you are left wondering why exactly the organization decided to take this gamble. Weirder still: The tangential involvement of celebrity investors like actor Michael J. Fox. 

Even if the movie initially feels rushed to start, however, you soon find out why: Because the real story is what happens when ownership sends eccentric lawyer Steven Warshaw to Russia to manage business there. That's when things get truly crazy.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a hockey team that never had to wonder where its resources would come from suddenly had to think about how to make money. Meanwhile, the American investors had no idea what they were stepping into. The Iron Curtain may have fallen, but what Russia was really like behind it was still largely a mystery to everyone. 

"I expected that the country would be somewhat functioning," Warshaw said. "It turned out I was wrong."

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A strip club in the arena, strippers on the ice, the Russian mob, bears, stolen money and even an alleged relationship with Disney all followed. Russia was a country in which there were few rules in the post-Cold War era and Warshaw and the Penguins found this out very quickly.

As the team grew in popularity, so did the interest of the Russian mob. Interestingly enough, the ownership group always expected their Russian counterparts to steal from them, but this only became a problem when they began stealing too much.

A plea for help from the Russian Army to combat the influence of the mob led to this telling quote from a Russian general: "I never had any problems with the criminals. If they paid on time then the arrangement worked.”

It wasn't until people involved with the team began to die that the ownership group realized they needed to end their partnership and get Warshaw out.

It's a story too crazy to be fiction and you'll have to see it to believe it.

Red Penguins will be available to stream via iTunes, Amazon and on demand on cable systems across the country on Aug. 4.

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T.J. Oshie's turning point fight, Richard Panik stays hot and the Caps get physical

T.J. Oshie's turning point fight, Richard Panik stays hot and the Caps get physical

The Capitals opened round-robin play with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, putting them in third place of the round-robin standings. Washington rallied from a 2-0 deficit and was the better team in the third period and overtime, but they walk away with only the single point.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

It’s still early

The team that played the first half of this game wasn’t very good, but the team that played the second half was much better. A lot of that was just getting back into game rhythm so it’s still too soon to tell how good this team really is yet. Are they the team that blew through the first half of the season or the team that looked like they couldn’t beat anyone from January to March?

RELATED: CAPS WON'T DISCUSS OVI EXTENSION UNTIL OFFSEASON

Physical play is key to this team’s identity

When the Caps began to get more physical, the game turned around. At its core, Washington is a physical team. A 2-0 game turned around because of a fight in the second period (more on that later). This is how they are successful and this is how they will need to continue to play.

Holtby looks completely different

Braden Holtby looks like a completely new goalie from the one that could not even manage a .900 save percentage in the regular season. He made a number of difficult saves and, critically, he made a number of those saves without giving up any rebounds. Rebound control has always been a strength of Holtby’s so to see him swallow up shots without giving up any second or third chance opportunities is a good sign.

Holtby was always going to be key to the team’s playoff success, but that is even more true without the safety net of Ilya Samsonov as a backup. This was a good game for Holtby and a good sign for Washington.

What to make of the power play

Not counting the nine-second power play the Caps had at the end of overtime, Washington had three opportunities with the extra man. The first two looked about as bad as any we have seen this season. The third looked very good and resulted in a goal. I hope the third power play was the result of adjustments made on the first two efforts and not just a result of a talented team getting a token goal.

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Turning point

The Caps were down 2-0 and looked like they were headed for a lackadaisical loss until T.J. Oshie dropped the gloves with Yanni Gourde.

Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at two and the Caps were the better team from then until the shootout.

Play of the game

Midway through the first period, Lars Eller turned the puck over to Brayden Point in the neutral zone. He took it into the offensive zone and handed it off to Nikita Kucherov. Michal Kempny forced him wide, but Kucherov let off an incredible shot to the far corner to beat Holtby. When the defense does its job, the goalie is ready and you are still able to pick your spot and score, that’s a dangerous sniper.

Stat of the game

Richard Panik scored Washington’s first goal of the game. He has been on a roll even before the pause.

Also an important stat: the Caps did not give up a single power play to Tampa Bay.

Quote of the game

Brenden Dillon on physical play:

“Yeah, I think that’s what we pride ourselves on. When we’re playing our best hockey, we’re playing physical. When we’re playing our best hockey, we have the skill to go with it and the speed as well. Come playoff time, we know we’re built for this style of game. We know when we’re at our best and playing Caps hockey. We’re finishing our checks, we’re hard on the forecheck and playing hard in the D zone. I think altogether tonight, we were pretty happy with our performance, but at the end of the day we’ve got to find a way to get an extra win and keep pushing forward for the next game.”

Runner up goes to Pat Maroon who was asked how his legs felt in overtime.

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