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Grading Capitals' offseason moves: Signing Brett Connolly

Grading Capitals' offseason moves: Signing Brett Connolly

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Signing Brett Connolly

The Caps entered free agency with very few needs, but one need they did have was for a right wing for the fourth line who could cycle in and out of the lineup.

While teams threw their money around as free agency began, the Caps were very quiet, looking for need and potential. They found it in the form of Brett Connolly.

Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Connolly was a the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft. Despite some good early play in his professional career, he was soon overshadowed by the Lightning’s impressive crop of young talent. Injuries further hampered him in Tampa and eventually in Boston.

Despite his struggles, the Caps see the same potential in him that led him to be drafted so high.

“He's got good size, he skates well, he's got good hands, he shoots the puck well, he just hasn't seemed to put it together yet consistently,” MacLellan said.

MacLellan sees more from Tom Wilson going forward which will mean a promotion from the fourth line to the third. That leaves a spot open on the fourth which Connolly will presumably fill. The Caps, however, are prepared to let his play determine that.

“He could play anywhere,” MacLellan said. “I mean it's up to him. We told him, you've got to come in and you've got to earn it. You've got to show the coaches. You've got to gain some respect and we'll see where you fit in. I mean he could play third line, fourth line, it's up to him.”

Grade: A

Whenever a team decides to walk away from a player player, it’s important to replace him with something better. Otherwise, what was the point? The Caps chose not to re-sign Michael Latta, but instead brought in a player with a much higher ceiling in Connolly.

This move is low-risk, high-reward. Seriously, where is the downside here? Connolly is signed for one year at $850,000. Despite his struggles, he is only 24 and when healthy has demonstrated he still has plenty of skill. If he does play well, he becomes a restricted agent at the end of the season and the Caps can easily retain his rights.

If he continues to fail to live up to that potential, it’s not as if the Caps will have a major hole on their top line. The Caps can plug in Stanislav Galiev or any of the several prospects waiting for their shot at the NHL and not miss a beat. Then they can cut Connolly loose at the end of the season.

Let’s be realistic here. Sometimes when fans see where a player was drafted, it’s easy to begin thinking that he will suddenly emerge as that top-tier player. It’s doubtful that Connolly is going to suddenly emerge as a top line winger, but he has the potential to become a solid player.

If he doesn’t, well it was worth a shot.

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Report: Caps prospect expected to test free agency

Report: Caps prospect expected to test free agency

With the Aug. 15 deadline approaching, it appears the Caps may lose a prospect from their 2012 draft class. Forward prospect Thomas DiPauli will become a free agent on Aug. 15 if the Caps are unable to sign him to a contract before then.

Now Craig Custance of ESPN is reporting it is unlikely the Caps will be able to sign DiPauli before Aug. 15.

The news comes as little surprise considering how long the Caps have been trying to sign him and have been unable to do so.

"We're working on trying to sign him," Brian MacLellan said at development camp. "It's been ongoing and we'd like to have him turn pro and play in Hershey next year."

DiPauli was not at the team's development camp in July.

After getting drafted in 2012, DiPauli has spent the last four years playing for Notre Dame. According to the CBA, a player who is drafted before beginning his college career and then plays the next four years in college can become a free agent on Aug. 15 four years after he was drafted if he does not sign an entry-level contract with the team that drafted him. Jimmy Vesey made headlines this spring by deciding not to sign with the Nashville Predators and is expected to head to free agency as well.

As Custance notes, the Caps are still in contention to land his services which begs the question, why would he not just sign?

Vesey was the Hobey Baker Award winner in 2016 as the top college hockey player. He will likely make the jump to the NHL right away regardless of what team he signs with, as Nashville general manager David Poile indicated. There is not the same buzz surrounding DiPauli and it is unclear just what sort of market their will be for his services past Aug. 15. No doubt there will be some interest—he is a young player with a lot of offensive skill and upside—but perhaps not as much as he may be expecting.

The Capitals selected DiPauli in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft. In his senior season at Notre Dame, he was the third leading scorer on the Fighting Irish with 32 points.

RELATED: WILSON STILL LOOKING TO FIND HIS OFFENSIVE TOUCH

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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Caps re-sign Tom Wilson

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Caps re-sign Tom Wilson

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Re-signing Tom Wilson

Not every offseason move involves bringing in someone new. Tom Wilson may have been a restricted free agent, but the Caps still had to make a choice on whether or not to bring him back. The team decided to walk away from fellow RFA Michael Latta, but offered Wilson a qualifying offer and re-signed him to a two-year deal worth $4 million.

RELATED: WHAT WILL SANFORD'S ROLE BE THIS SEASON?

In the end, the move was no surprise.

General manager Brian MacLellan made clear after the season that he wanted Wilson to become a Joel Ward type of player.

“It’s on Tom and on us to turn him into that kind of guy that has a net-front presence, that finds loose pucks, finds rebounds, plays good along the wall," MacLellan said. "I think Tom is our answer to that."

But is there room for Wilson with such a crowded roster? If he develops into the player MacLellan envisions, absolutely. The Caps have a need for players willing to fight for those dirty goals and Wilson's physicality and offensive upside makes him an ideal candidate to do just that.

Grade: A-

To truly evaluate this move, let's try to forget where Wilson was drafted. It's clear he's not going to live up to his first round selection. That, however, does not mean he does not still have value for the Caps. It's time now for that value to come from his offense rather than just from his fists.

The best part of this move is not the price, but the clear, achievable goal the team has set before Wilson.

The Caps need a net-front presence. Wilson needs to find his offensive game. Despite what other general managers may think of him, Wilson can and should be contributing more than just seven goals and 16 assists in a season. Now he has a "prove it" deal and a clear, defined goal of what the Caps want to see him develop into.

When the Caps drafted him, they were hoping for a Milan Lucic type of player. That does not look like it's going to happen, but it would still be foolish to give up on Wilson who is just 22 years old. At this point, it doesn't matter where he was drafted. If he becomes a Joel Ward, there's still value in that.

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