The Connor Brown Quandary

The Washington Capitals acquired winger Connor Brown from the Ottawa Senators last summer in an attempt to bolster their forward group and help fill the void left by injured Tom Wilson, who was sidelined after tearing an ACL. Brown’s run in Washington quickly came to an end on October 17 when he sustained a season-ending injury in just the fourth game of the season.

The injury occurred in the third period when Brown slammed awkwardly into the boards in front of the Vancouver bench following a hit from Canucks’ defenseman Noah Juulsen. Brown limped away and headed directly down the Capitals tunnel.

The Capitals announced on November 1 that Brown underwent a surgical procedure on his right knee to reconstruct his torn ACL and would likely require 6-8 months of recovery and rehabilitation.

Six-to-eight months later brings us to the April-June, 2023 timeframe. And while there have been reports that Brown has been seen skating at MedStar, the condition of Brown’s right knee going forward is simply an unknown. Some players fully recover from a reconstructed ACL. Some don’t.

Injury aside, arguably the worst part of the injury for Brown is that he is an unrestricted free agent, which means he needs a job starting in the 2023-24 season. He will surely lose money in his next deal simply due to his questionable knee, whether that’s with the Capitals or with another team.


The situation in Washington has changed. Wilson has returned and looked solid in his 28 games played this season. But one of the major goals for Capitals GM Brian MacLellan this off-season will be to add scoring to the forward group, and Brown, before his injury, had some scoring on his resume. But is it worth the risk, or would the Capitals be better off finding a scorer with two good knees, as bad as that sounds?

Brown made $3.6 million per season under his last deal. Unfortunately it’s unlikely he will see that high of a salary in his next deal, at least to start. A “prove-it” type deal at a reduced rate is logical for any team and likely for Brown. Other teams might be interested in a “prove it” deal with Brown, so that “prove it” cost could rose a bit.

The quandary, do the Capitals have enough data to continue with Brown, even at a reduced rate, or are there better, safer options?

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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19 Responses to The Connor Brown Quandary

  1. GRin430 says:

    Depends on 2 things, which are unknown to us (though not the Caps):

    1. How bad was the tear, and what is his current status? If it was just a partial tear of just the ACL and there was no other major damage, and he currently has full range of motion, is (more or less) pain free, and has started to rebuild the strength in that leg, that greatly reduces the risk. If his entire knee was trashed, and he is still restricted in motion, feels significant pain and thus can’t really do much more than light skating, that increases the risk. Without knowing the extent of the damage and his actual status, we can’t really judge the risk.

    2. How reduced is his requested reduced rate? To the league minimum? Might be worth taking a chance even if there’s still signficant recovery risk. 2X the league minimum? I’d want to be pretty sure he’s going to recover enough to be at least a viable competitor to Aube-Kubel who would be cheaper. 3X the minimum? He’d better have a high probability of being able to play 2-3rd line minutes. And I wouldn’t go any higher than that.

    The other wildcard here is Oshie… How banged up is he, and are the injuries significant enough that he is considering retiring? He’s played hurt for a couple of years now, and it is definitely affecting his productivity. I love the guy, but he’s been eating a good chunk of cap space for a half-season’s worth of healthy play (he’s played in more than half the games, but not really… ) He’ll turn 37 in December… does anybody believe there’s a rejuvenation coming next season?

    If Oshie retires that leaves a big hole in the lineup (for about half the games), but opens a LOT of cap space. At this point that might be the best path for both the Caps and the Oshie family (he’d likely get a nice, cushy job with the Caps), but I doubt he’ll yield to old age any more than he has to bigger players throughout his career.

    But if Oshie goes, and Brown is healthy, it might make sense for the Caps to be a bit more willing to pay more for a one-year “prove-you-can-still-play” contract for Brown.

    • KimRB says:

      “If Oshie retires…..”
      “If Backstrom retires….”

      Oshie and Backy have two more years left on their contracts.

      When was the last time you heard of an NHL player retiring, when he still had years left on his contract? Honestly, I can’t recall one, but consarn it, getting up thar in age. Would you leave millions of dollars you were owed, on the table? I wouldn’t.

      • novafyre says:

        Does this count? From The Hockey News: “following the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Kovalchuk retired, thus voiding the final 12 years (!!!) of a 15-year, $100-million contract he had signed with the Devils. “

        • KimRB says:

          Welllll, there’s a big difference between 12 years and 2. And the KHL was overflowing with petrodollars then. Kovalchuk knew that he was in for a big payday, no matter where he played. Oshie and Backy, however, might be looking at the last 7 figure paychecks of their lives.

          I think that’s a false equivalency

          • novafyre says:

            OK, you don’t like my first find, here’s another.
            What about Vincent Lecavalier? After the Bolts buyout, he signed a 5 year contract with Fryers. They traded him to Kings in the middle of the fourth year and he retired at the end of it never playing that fifth year.

            Granted, he also had the cushion of the Bolts buyout, but I would argue that most top players with good fiscal habits would have quite a good nestegg by the time we’re getting to these contracts.

            There comes a point in any pro athlete’s life where the priority shifts or the body just can’t take it any more. I have to believe there are still others.

        • KimRB says:

          From Wikipedia:

          “Kovalchuk claimed he desired to return home to Russia along with his family, though it was speculated that money had quite an influence as well, due to the higher total salary Kovalchuk would receive in Russia via the far lower Russian tax rate compared to the U.S.”

      • FooFromMe says:

        Matt Niskanen retired from the Flyboys with a year left on his contract (5.75 AAV).

  2. Anonymous says:

    It really sucks for him. But I don’t think Caps need to go down that road again. There are other options with equal or greater scoring.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Class act, Pettersson.

    Brown and Strome were on Erie’s second line behind McJesus, and they crushed it. It would be comically stupid to not give it an honest shot.

    Also, this isn’t 1986 anymore guys. ACL injuries aren’t a death knell anymore. Branden Tanev plays a similar style and tore his ACL in December of last season and was on the opening day roster. He’s been crushing it this year.

    • Anonymous says:

      You gotta know you can compare one ACL reconstruction with another. They are two different people. Some come fully back. Some don’t. There are too many other options, with much less risk. He’s never been a huge scorer.

      • Anonymous says:

        I have spoken with numerous professional athletes who were rehabbing knee injuries, while I was rehabbing other injuries alongside them. They and the DPTs all agree that it is not the same as it was in the past.

        Look at Adrian Peterson for a perfect example. Yes he was anomalous, but nowadays, guys usually come back from ACL injuries pretty much back to normal.

        • Anonymous says:

          Like I said, some do ok, some don’t. Look at Commanders Chase Young. Going on two years. Point is, why risk when there are a lot of other options with no concerns regarding knees.

          • Anonymous says:

            What risk are you implying exists? That players with reconstructed knees will be more prone to
            future injury?

            Anybody can get injured- both Brown and Wilson tore their ACLs in 2022 in each of their first major knee injuries. Whomever you prefer the Caps sign also poses the same unknowable risk of catastrophic knee injury. The doctors know more than either of us, and if they seem him healthy during the next several months that he can continue to work with them while under team control, then I don’t see a problem.

  4. Lance says:

    Washington is a great place for Brown if the money makes sense. 1 year at 2 million. Can’t risk more than that.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think we need to bring him back . Maybe a one year prove it type deal if hell accept, but I think we need to bring him back.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Pass. There are too many, healthy, less questionable forwards available.

  7. Anonymous says:

    He NEVER looked good when healthy. Just not the right fit with Caps high finesse play in the Top6. So if he is 3RW, he is too pricey for that. Rather be Protas/Milano.

  8. Wieand says:

    Backstrom and Oshie might retire this summer if they conclude that another season might threaten their post-NHL quality of life. Backstrom’s hip situation and Oshie’s history with concussions could seriously jeopardize both men’s ability to enjoy life after professional hockey, which would be a really sad outcome for two men in their late 30s. Is the risk from another NHL season worth taking just to make a few more dollars at this stage of their careers?

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