In three seasons with the Capitals, right wing Brett Connolly has evolved from a taken flier, one-year deal player to a consistent, offensively-gifted forward, slowly but surely doing his part to live up to his draft pedigree (sixth overall in 2010). But after three solid seasons in the Nation’s capital, and with a challenging salary cap summer ahead for General Manager Brian MacLellan, Connolly’s career season in 2018-19 may have priced the steady winger out of Washington.
Originally signed by the Caps to a one-year, $850,000 deal in the summer of 2016, Connolly had failed to produce offensively in parts of six seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning (the team that drafted him sixth overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft) and Boston Bruins (with the Bruins opting not to extend him a qualifying offer in 2016, rendering him an unrestricted free agent), recording just 34 points (27 goals, 32 assists) in 139 games played, with a plus/minus rating of minus-15, and averaging just 12:09 of ice time a game. Upon signing with the Capitals, however, Connolly found his footing in the NHL and as an offensive weapon.
In his first two seasons with the Caps, Connolly scored a combined 30 goals and recorded 50 points in 136 games played, with a plus-14 rating, establishing himself as a consistent, third-line forward, who became entrusted with power play time and entrenched himself as a great source of secondary scoring. After his first season (2016-17), the Capitals signed him to a two-year, $3 million deal (an average annual value and cap hit of $1.5 million). In his third season in D.C., Connolly enjoyed a breakout campaign, scoring a career-high 22 goals, and recording a career-high 24 assists and 46 points in 81 games played, with a plus-13 rating. His averages of 0.27 and 0.57 goals and points-per game were the best of his NHL career, and his 0.30 assists per game were the second-highest of his career.
And while the team and Connolly have expressed an interest in a return to the team on a new contract, his totals this past season and production throughout the last three seasons may have priced him out of Washington, especially considering the offseason to-do list for MacLellan, which includes a decision and inevitable raise for young forward Jakub Vrana. With the Caps already tight when it comes to the salary cap, Connolly’s asking price (which would most likely begin around $4 million per season) could be too much for the Caps to meet. Connolly’s comments (per The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan) in his exit interview with the media a few weeks ago also indicate that the 27-year old forward is open to testing his market value:
“Obviously this year, knowing the situation, I’ve expressed that I want to be back. That’s obvious. But a lot of things will play into that. I had a great year — my best year by far, coming off winning a Stanley Cup. I have a lot of confidence in my game, with myself, which I think is a big thing now. I feel like my career really started in the last couple of years in a weird way, just with that confidence and the belief that I can do it, and I can be a contributor and score 20 goals, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. It just took a little while. We’ll see. But obviously I want to be back, but there are a lot of different things that factor into it.”
While there is no doubt Connolly has a lot to contribute to the Capitals and a return would no doubt help the team, the existing and future monetary circumstances may ultimately be the deciding factor in whether No. 10 will be back in Red next season.
By Michael Fleetwood