The Forgotten Florida Panther: Brett Connolly

It turns out Florida Panthers forward Brett Connolly’s breakout season wasn’t a fluke. One season after hitting 20 goals for the first time and scoring a career-high 46 points with the Washington Capitals, the 27-year-old is on pace to shatter both marks with his new team. Having just signed a four-year deal, the journeyman Connolly has seemingly found a new home.

Connolly an Unusual Suspect

Of course, it’s fair to say that the Caps were far more stacked last season after they captured the Stanley Cup then the Cats are now. I mean, the Panthers aren’t without their fair share of firepower with 91 goals so far (101 for the Capitals, for the record). If you run down the list of the Panthers’ scoring leaders, the usual suspects pop up where you would expect.

Brett Connolly Washington Capitals
Ex-Washington Capitals forward Brett Connolly – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

First-liners Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov are obviously at the top. Then there’s defenseman Keith Yandle, who continues to contribute offensively at an impressive pace. It’s easy then to overlook everyone else, like Mike Hoffman, Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad, each of whom are far from slouches.

At the top of that second wave of scorers, though, is none other than Connolly, who has 19 points in 26 games, including a team-leading 12 goals. And he’s doing it all averaging a modest 14:39 in ice time. That too is a career-high, up just slightly from the 13:20 he got with the Capitals last year. So, he’s got a lot to be thankful for, but, then again, seeing as he’s making the most of his limited opportunities, everyone does.

Obviously, the Panthers have a lot for which to be thankful overall. For starters, they’re currently in an Atlantic Division playoff spot, but Connolly’s contributions in that regard cannot be understated. Were it not for the success of the team in general, there’s an argument to be made he’d slot in as No. 1 on the list.

Connolly vs. Panarin

Look at the facts: This past summer, the Panthers for all intents and purposes settled for just goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as a free-agent signee, despite rampant rumors that failed to materialize they would ink Artemi Panarin too. So, Connolly came across as a consolation prize and a poor one at that, considering:

  1. His track record as a secondary scorer was about as long as this one sentence and
  2. Panarin’s 87 points last season effectively doubled Connolly’s output.

A few months later and it’s clear Connolly still lags far behind Panarin in terms of what the latter would have brought to the Panthers. Panarin’s 33 points in 25 games on an underachieving New York Rangers squad have been impressive, even with expectations for him being as high as they were heading into this season.

Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers
New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Regardless, as alluded to earlier, Connolly has been far from a disappointment. And, considering the amount of cap space the Panthers have and the amount for which Panarin signed with the Rangers, getting both Bobrovsky and Panarin was always a pipe dream.

Connolly vs. Bobrovsky

Obviously, knowing what we know now… hell, extrapolating even back then prior to the signings, the Panthers made a mistake signing Bobrovsky. At the very least, the Panthers overpayed for Bobrovsky’s services, seeing as he was largely unproven in the playoffs except for the single round in which he had been dominant as a 30-year-old last spring.

Florida Panthers Sergei Bobrovsky
Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky – (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Now 31, Bobrovsky should not have been the Panthers’ sole marquee free-agent signing. That much was always obvious. Connolly, on the other hand, providing more bang for the Panthers’ buck than either Bobrovsky or Panarin? Not as obvious.

Indeed, with a cap hit of just $3.5 million, less than one third of Panarin’s, Connolly may have singlehandedly saved the Panthers’ summer. Granted, he’s not singlehandedly responsible for the Panthers’ success so far this season, but it’s a team effort that extends past that dominant first line, which is in large part due to Connolly.

For a guy who’s only ranked No. 14 on the Panthers in terms of ice time per game, he’s hard to miss… or forget. Connolly has already left his mark on this team, with three more years left at least.