During free agency, the headlines are always dominated by the big name signings. Milan Lucic heading to Edmonton, Kyle Okposo going to the Sabres, Andrew Ladd signing with the Islanders. And while these types of signings usually have a big impact on the teams that they sign with, the smaller, low-key signings can be just as important. While Brett Connolly is no Lucic or Okposo, depth signings like these can be just as important to a team. Connolly won’t put up a massive amount of points for the Capitals but he was a very underrated addition to the team that should be able to help improve the top-nine.
With only a small amount of cap space at their disposal, the Washington Capitals entered free agency without the ability to sign any of the high-profile free agents available. But why would they need to? Though they were knocked out of the playoffs relatively early, they dominated throughout the entire regular season. As the team with the most points in the entire league, Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy with an outstanding 56-18-8 record and an impressive 120 points. With a full 11-point lead over the second place Dallas Stars, the Washington Capitals displayed a huge improvement from last season. Their +59 goal differential was 20 goals better than last year’s Capitals team and they notched 10 more goals and allowed 10 less goals. Not to mention, Washington’s special teams were unbeatable as they had the fifth best powerplay and second best penalty kill in the league with 21.9 and 85.2 conversion rates. With the only major change being losing Jason Chimera but gaining Lars Eller, the Capitals were able to keep the core of their very successful team intact.
But just because they had little cap space doesn’t mean there wasn’t the possibility of overspending or signing bad players. The Toronto Maple Leafs gave Matt Martin $2.5 million per year for four years while Jordan Tootoo and Jared Boll both found themselves with contracts. With cap space at a premium, every dollar counts. At only $850,000, even if Connolly underperforms this season there is no risk for the Caps since his cap hit is so low.
For less than $1 million, the Capitals take a chance on a young forward with plenty of potential to turn in a really good season for the team. Drafted 6th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Connolly flashed plenty of offensive ability throughout his minor league career. In 144 games in the WHL for the Prince George Cougars, Connolly tallied 86 goals and 66 assists for a total of 152 points. He also continued to progress in the AHL as in two seasons, Connolly scored an impressive 120 points in only 137 games. Even though he only scored 25 points in 71 games for the Bruins last year, he only averaged a little less than 13 minutes of ice time per game. At only 24 years old, Connolly still has potential to keep growing his offensive game in the NHL and improving.
But even if Connolly doesn’t significantly improve his scoring and he only gets around 30 points next season, at least he’ll be driving play in the right direction. Last year with the Bruins, Connolly posted a very good 53% score, zone, and venue adjusted CF% (data from Corsica). He also recorded the fourth and fifth best Rel.CF% and Rel.CA60 respectively on the team. Compare those numbers to Jason Chimera’s and you can see that Connolly is a somewhat big improvement on the possession front for the Capitals. Last year with Washington, Chimera actually had the fourth worst Rel.CF% and second worst Rel.CA60 on the team.
The Brett Connolly signing may not have gotten a lot of attention but it was one of the best moves the Capitals could make. At a cheap $850,000 price tag, the Capitals bring in a young forward who can chip in with some offense and push possession the right way. While Connolly won’t have a superstar season, fans can expect him to put forth a solid year for the Capitals.
Liked the article? Check out more of my writing at www.allinhockey.com