Next up on the season review list is none other than Chris Conner, one of the few guys in the Penguins' system to benefit from a series of injuries to the top-line guys. Conner amassed 60 games with the Pens this season when he joined ranks on a full-time basis back in early November.
Player: Chris Conner
Role: Wherever a warm body is needed
Contract Status: UFA as of July 1, 2011
Conner's seven goals and nine assists left a lot to be desired, but I'm feeling generous and will therefore choose to defend his production. At times it seemed like Dan Bylsma was a bit confused as to where Conner should be playing. He was fast enough for top two line consideration but his hands weren't exactly going to keep him there. Then again, you toss him on to a fourth line and he's not exactly big enough at 5-foot-8 to play alongside the likes of Mike Rupp or Craig Adams. So where do you put a guy like Conner?
Preferably, not on the shootout/penalty shot if possible. The real fact of the matter is, Conner was just a consistent speedy guy who was best used as an able body to fill a roster spot for a team riddled with injuries.
I said I'd be generous, but I also have to be honest.
Given the number of free agent options for Pittsburgh this offseason, there's a good chance this may be the first and last season we see Conner in a Penguins uniform. There's also the slight possibility that Ray Shero can throw a two-year, $1.5 mill deal at him or something and allow him to build a stronger resume on a healthier Penguins squad next season. It's likely that Conner's efforts didn't warrant a ton of attention in just his first - or closest to a first - full season in the league, so odds are teams won't be knocking down the door to make any sort of lavish offer. If Conner has an option to stay in Pittsburgh, and that option is somewhere in Shero's two-year ballpark range, then it might do wonders for the guy to consider sticking with the big boys and progress in the system that gave him his shot. In two seasons with the Pens, Conner played a total of 68 games, just three less than the 71 he amassed in three seasons with the Dallas Stars (unless you consider the eight playoff games with Pittsburgh, thereby giving him 76 in the black and gold).
A few things to consider here: At 27 years old, going on 28 in December '11, Conner is no spring chicken by hockey standards. At least not for a guy entering his second season. Odds are he is not going to be a priority signing for Shero unless there is already a plan in mind.
You also have to wonder if Conner can only improve from this point. Is he worth consideration or do the Pens just cut ties and say, "Thanks for all the help."
At $550K you'd have to think Conner can be had for cheap, but is he worth bringing back? Should the Pens make the offer or consider letting him go in favor of someone else thriving in the Pens' system?