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Connolly says joining Panthers as free agent 'no-brainer'

Forward sold on additions of Bobrovsky, Quenneville to 'already good team'

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

TORONTO -- Brett Connolly said that when he was weighing contract offers as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the potential of the Florida Panthers was too enticing to turn down.

"It was a no-brainer for me with the new coach and the additions they were bringing to the team on top of an already good team that just needs to find that little step to get in there," the forward said on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio at BioSteel Camp on Tuesday. "It's exciting and I'm looking forward to being a part of that, being on the team that got past that hump and going on a bit of a (Stanley Cup) Playoff run the next few years."

The 27-year-old, who set NHL career highs last season with the Washington Capitals with 22 goals, 24 assists and 46 points, agreed to a four-year contract with the Panthers on July 1. He said the offseason additions that included coach Joel Quenneville, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Anton Stralman left him optimistic about what the Panthers can accomplish in the near future.

"I had three probably of the best years of my life in Washington, there's no question," said Connolly, who is entering his 10th NHL season, "but I was definitely very excited when I got the call from (general manager) Dale (Tallon) when he outlined the plan for me and the team moving forward."

Video: 31 in 31: Florida Panthers 2019-20 season preview

He said the chance to play for Quenneville, who guided the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015, helped to seal his decision.

"Everyone that I've talked to tells me that he's fair but he expects a lot out of his players, and if you're not doing what he needs you to do, he's going to let you know," Connolly said. "I'm excited about that and to see what he has in store for me. I'm going to give that organization everything I have because I feel my game is at its best point in my career."

Connolly's 22 goals surpassed his previous NHL career high by seven, his 24 assists were eight more than his previous best, and his 46 points were 19 more than his previous high. Connolly said he thought his career was at a crossroads when he signed a one-year contract with the Capitals coming off the 2015-16 season, when he had 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 71 games with the Boston Bruins, and after three seasons with the Capitals, which included a Stanley Cup championship in 2018, he said he felt fortunate to be in position to field offers as a UFA.

"It's funny how the narrative changes so quickly in this League," he said. "You play well for three years after my career didn't go very well at the start, but it's just crazy how it changes and GMs' perspective changes on you. It's a crazy thing. It was a matter of making a gut decision and living with that and I'm really happy with the decision I made."

Now he is hoping that his playoff experience (38 games, all over the past three seasons) will rub off on Florida's young players, including forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad, and that he can help the Panthers, who have missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and six of the past seven, reach the postseason. They finished 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference last season.

"Your horses have to be going (to have success)," Connolly said. "You just need guys stepping up every night and you need guys who want to make a difference, and that's what we had in Washington. You've got to love to be around each other and playing for each other. It seems like Florida's got that part of it, so now it's just a matter of getting in there and getting a little experience."

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