First of all I want to wish all the Florida Panther fans and readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope that you enjoyed your day, and spent some valuable time with friends and family. Also I hope that you’re enjoying our new podcast!
While things haven’t been all that fantastic lately for the Florida Panthers as they are mired in a three game losing streak, I felt that it’s a good time to take a look at something very positive about the team. That is the play of Brett Connolly.
Connolly was drafted 6th overall in 2010 by the Tampa Bay Lightning despite having a nagging hip injury during the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament which took place in August of 2009. Connolly would only play 16 games for The Prince George Cougars during 2009-2010 (following the injury) scoring 10 times with 9 assists for 19 points. During the 08-09 regular season for Prince George, Connolly had 30 goals and 30 assists in 65 games.
While he didn’t make the roster for Tampa in his draft year, he was sent back to the WHL and recorded 46 goals and 27 assists for Prince George in 59 games. There was hope that his scoring ability would translate from juniors to the NHL level. Unfortunately for Brett, it took longer than projected.
Connolly played parts of three seasons for the Lightning, never breaking into the lineup full time and was traded to the Boston Bruins in the 2014-2015 season. Again, Connolly’s point totals didn’t amount to much and he went to free agency in the summer of 2016 and was signed by the Washington Capitals. Connolly played for 3 seasons in Washington including their cup winning year where he scored 15 goals with 12 assists. His best year in the NHL was 2018-2019 in which he scored 22 goals and had 24 assists for 46 points in 81 games. While Connolly was given some power play minutes, 21 of his 22 goals were scored at even strength. Something that obviously caught Dale Tallon’s eye as that was one area the Florida Panthers needed to improve on based on the prior years results.
Connolly came to camp with the expectation of being a 20-25 goal scorer, playing somewhere between the second line and the third line. His signing however was met unfortunately with moans and groans. The Panthers expected to make some big splashes in free agency, and one of the targets besides goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was his good friend and teammate Artemi Panarin.
The Panthers signed Bobrovsky to a $70 million, 7 year contract, and after that there wasn’t enough room left to sign Panarin and not address at least one other area (the defence) as well. Once it became obvious that the Breadman (Panarin if you don’t know) wasn’t bringing his talents to Sunrise, the Panthers inked Connolly to a 4 year contract with an average salary of $3.5 million. This wasn’t the most exciting deal to have made, nor was it what the “faithful” had expected. For some it was quite a let down. For others however, it was very well received, and after 25 games we are seeing why.
Connolly who has mostly been on the second line with Vincent Trocheck and for the most part Denis Malgin, or Mike Hoffman, has scored 12 goals and has added 7 assists. Eleven of his goals have been at even strength, and his shooting percentage is a whooping 28.6 percent! How good is his shot? Look at this goal scored against Linus Ullmark of the Buffalo Sabres. Connolly catches the puck, and in the same motion snaps a wrister past the goalers glove side.
Besides having an excellent wrist shot, Connolly can also stick handle when given the opportunity. Take a look at his goal against Washington on Wednesday night. Vincent Trocheck head mans the puck (I love that phrase) to Connolly, who uses his quickness to breakaway and deke goaltender Braden Holtby for his 12th goal of the season. Nice play all around, and the kind of goal that has to be scored when you get the chance.
Connolly has already shown after 25 games that his signing has been one of the smartest of free agency. At 27 years old he’s entering his prime, and the value that the Panthers are getting to this point is way above the pay grade. What we want to see as we move forward is consistency. On and off the ice, Connolly has shown the professionalism and focus it takes to be a winner. Having won the Stanley Cup in Washington, Connolly is the lone representative in the Panthers dressing room who can put that on his resume.
Every general manager makes mistakes, and with that comes the criticism and the angst from fans complaining about that mistake. Dale Tallon isn’t any different, but you need to give him full props on this one. Grabbing Connolly for a very “friendly” contract appears to be a stroke of genius. Connolly isn’t flashy, and he doesn’t need to be. Panarin is, but the dollars didn’t make sense. Connolly isn’t Panarin, and it’s not fair to compare the two as they play different styles.
Appreciate Connolly for what he is. A consistent, hard working, focused player that can score, get gritty when needed, and be a leader both on and off the ice.
The next 9 games are at the BB & T Center starting with Nashville on Saturday. 18 points up for grabs and as I said on the podcast yesterday morning, we need 13 of those points. The games are fairly spread out which is a good thing. This is not only a good test, but can allow the Panthers to create some distance from the teams chasing them.
MacKenzie Weegar has begun skating again. That’s a good sign that his return is close.
Have you heard our new podcast Locked On Panthers? We (Josh and I) post a Florida Panther podcast daily Monday to Friday (with the exception of holidays) where we talk about the Florida Panthers. We are the ONLY daily Florida Panther Podcast. It’s posted every weekday morning by 6 am est time so you can listen as you get ready for work, school or whatever. You can find it on our website, and other places where you get podcasts from such as Apple, Itunes, Stitcher, Spotify and directly at the LockedOn Network which is right here.
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Thanks for reading.
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