Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Should He Stay or Should He Go

A future line for the Bolts (photo from TBO.com)
Decisions, decisions. You see, I'm in the market for a new Lightning jersey. Since they've gone and updated their uniforms as a fan, it is required that I update my wardrobe. Actually, it's not, but I did get me usual jersey signed by Mr. Lecavalier so I can't really wear that one around anymore.

The problem is, other than finances, is that I haven't decided whose jersey I should get. My first inclination is to go with another Lecavalier or perhaps a Stamkos, but my contrarian nature is pushing me away from the masses. While I'd like to be one of the few to rock an Adam Hall jersey, I'd also like a player who has a decent chance of being around for more than one season. So, at this point, I'm leaning towards my latest hockey player crush – Brett Connolly.

That leads to the topic of Connolly's chances of staying with the big club this season. For those not aware, in the NHL, teams have the option of sending first year players of certain age back to their junior team after nine games and not having their salary count against the cap. With an influx of 18 and 19 year old players this year it has been a major talking point for the last few days around the NHL. Winnipeg has already sent their best prospect, Mark Scheifele, back to the Barrie Colts (former home of former Lightning forward Sheldon Keefe!) and Edmonton is mulling over sending down top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as well.

There are benefits to both the player and the team with this arrangement. Let's face it, no matter how good a player is at 18 years old, most of the time they are not physically ready to compete with grown-ass men. Jumping directly from juniors to the NHL is hard, even players that stuck such as Stamkos and Sidney Crosby admit that they weren't ready for the speed of game in the pros.

It is not beneficial for a young player to be scratched three out of every four games or log six minutes a game when they do get a chance to make the lineup. Nor does it do a lot for their confidence to get shoved around the ice by a 4th line center who happens to outweigh them by 30 pounds on the ice. Better for the youngster to get another year of seasoning at the junior level, and better for the team to not have to pay them the entry level contract.

Finances are important for the team, as is maintaining control of the player as long as possible, but I don't think it's as important as it is in baseball. The hard cap and reasonable arbitration contracts (when they get to that point) make it easier for hockey organizations to retain their young talent than their baseball brethren. Still, teams don't like forking over first round money for a player that is mostly riding the pine.
If you happen to have one of these I'd take it off your hands! (photo from Canadacardworld.com)

Connolly is an interesting case. GM Steve Yzerman has admitted that he is having a tough time deciding if he should retain the services of his young winger. Mr. Yzerman admitted to the St. Pete Times that, "We're a better team with him in the lineup". While the youngster hasn't been lightning up the scoreboard at a Calder Trophy pace he has been effective on the ice. He's notched two assists and has averaged 13:44 minutes on the ice through his first eight games. While that number pales in comparison to the likes of Stamkos (18:57) Martin St Louis (19:31) it is higher than veterans Teddy Purcell (12:42) and Steve Downie (13:22).

The coaching staff is giving him quality ice time. Instead of putting him on a checking line he has spent the majority of his playing time recently on Lecavalier's line. He's also averaging about a minute and a half of power play time a game as well. Those aren't exactly the numbers of someone that is destined for a demotion, especially on a team that is desperate for secondary scoring. Even though its importance as a stat is debatable, it is worth noting that he is second on the team (and tied for first among his fellow rookies) in +/- at a healthy +4.

So if they do keep him, how does the team keep him effective for the entire year? Without a doubt he will hit the proverbial "rookie wall". He has never played more than 65 games in a season and is only two years removed from hip surgery. At a listed 181 lbs. there is no doubt that he is undersized for a NHL forward as well. Banging around in the corners with 230 lb defensemen will take its toll on him over the course of the season.

The team should take caution with his playing time, perhaps putting him on the Stamkos program. For all of his faults as a head coach Rick Tocchet handled Stamkos' rookie season beautifully. One of the more important aspects was the occasional "classroom session". Throughout his rookie season Stamkos was occasionally scratched and sent to the press box to watch the game. Normally seen as a punishment, being a healthy scratch not only allowed the young sniper a chance to rest physically, it also allowed him to see the game from a different aspect.

I think we can all agree it worked out rather well for Stamkos.

The Lightning have enough depth that they can afford to sit Connolly once every four or five games to give him a breather or to regain focus. Coach Boucher is fond of keeping players refreshed anyway so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to rotate Connolly through the lineup. Despite his rough early play, there is no doubt that Ryan Shannon can step into the lineup and contribute, and the same goes for Tom Pyatt.

From the games I've watched it's apparent that Connolly deserves to stay with the big club (which, of course, means he'll be sent down within moments of me posting this) and with the right handling can be and effective member of the team. Now the only decision remaining is if I should get the road or home jersey.


Strum said...

I detect a Connolly collection starting soon! And I'd get the home blue

Captain Canuck said...

I'm still bitter that bettman has the teams wearing the wrong colour at home, so what do I know?

Justin G. said...

Strum...I've debated adding young Master Connolly to the PC, waiting for his cards to come back down a bit (which might happen if he gets sent down).

CC - I agree - gotta go back to the home whites, but of all the things to be bitter at bettman about, that's about 17th on the list.