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.”
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.