Brett Connolly was one of the best shooters in the NHL for years as a member of the Capitals and at the end of his tenure with the Lightning. Not one of the prettiest shooters, mind you — Connolly has never been Alex Ovechkin. Rather, Connolly was one of the most effective, most efficient shooters while playing a third-line role, taking on some defensive responsibility.
If that’s the player the Blackhawks got in the trade with the Panthers, there’s a chance Connolly can live up to his two-year, $3.5 million AAV deal. But Connolly hasn’t been that player since leaving Washington and he doesn’t do enough outside of goal-scoring to earn that contract in a flat cap world.
Three times in his career, Connolly has topped 1.2 goals per 60 across all strengths. He’s been over one goal per 60 three more times, including last season’s 1.14 mark with the Panthers. When he is shooting the puck, Connolly can be a capable scorer. He’s had a shooting percentage over 20 once in his career and often requires a high volume of shots for his goal-scoring.
From 2016 to 2019, Connolly was second in goals per 60 among Capitals players, trailing only Ovechkin. Connolly generated 0.66 expected goals per 60 and 3.11 expected high-danger chances per 60 during that time. Connolly can go where he needs to go in order to score. He does the right things. He just needs to do them in Chicago.
With the Blackhawks, Connolly had just 0.54 goals per 60 and 0.36 expected goals per 60. Maybe that was a result of an odd season, maybe it’s a small sample size (Connolly played just 10 games with the Blackhawks and 31 games altogether in 2021) but Connolly needs to be better than those numbers.
At his best, Connolly has been a player worth more than his current contract. In 2016-17, Connolly had a 12.2 expected goals above replacement mark and 2.3 expected wins above replacement. In 2019-20, he had 11.1 xGAR and 2 xWAR. Connolly had just 0.7 xGAR and 0.1 xWAR last season.
Connolly also knows how to score on the power play — 16 of his 101 career goals have come on the man advantage. Connolly can be the shooter on the second unit who helps support the first, and that makes him what can be a crucial scoring depth option. If the Blackhawks were a better team that was closer to contention, that could make Connolly — should he return to form — an excellent addition.
He’s not that far removed from his best play. He had 1.22 goals per 60 in 2018-19 and 1.14 in 2019-20, as his shots and expected goals fell. If he’s placed on a line where he’s the main shooter and able to generate chances, it’s likely he can be that third-line goal scorer again.
Connolly is not likely in the Blackhawks’ long-term plans but that doesn’t mean he can’t be better than a contract dump for a team looking to contend in the short-term. If the Blackhawks are able to get Connolly back on his feet, scoring goals and generating chances, he could be Stan Bowman’s most successful rehabilitation project and net the Blackhawks high-end assets at the 2022 trade deadline.
Connolly is an effective, efficient shooter at his best. At his worst, he can play some defense and add a decoy on the power play. If the Blackhawks get the former next season, Bowman could have hit the lottery while trading just a few months of Lucas Wallmark and Lucas Carlsson.