Tampa Bay Lightning has "no plans" to send rookie Brett Connolly back to juniors yet

Brett Connolly was a healthy scratch Thursday against the Jets.
Brett Connolly was a healthy scratch Thursday against the Jets.
Published Feb. 5, 2012

It seems as if the Lightning is committed to keeping Brett Connolly on its roster despite dramatic dropoffs in his offensive production and ice time, and that the rookie right wing needs to get much better defensively.

He was even benched for Thursday's game with the Jets.

Connolly can be sent to Tri-City of the junior Western league, and for him to be eligible for its playoffs, the move must be made by the NHL's Feb. 27 trade deadline. But Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman said, "At this time we don't have any plans to do that."

It is a decision based on what the team believes is best for Connolly's development and the rules that say when junior-eligble players can be sent to the professional minor leagues, rules Yzerman believes need to be tweaked.

Yzerman would like to send Connolly, the No. 6 overall pick of the 2010 draft, to AHL Norfolk, where he could get more playing time and develop his skills in more of a teaching environment.

But junior-eligible players such as Connolly, 19, cannot go to the minors until their junior team's season is complete. Tri-City's regular season runs through mid March. Add up to four rounds of playoffs and Connolly might have an extended run with the Americans before getting to Norfolk.

The way the Lightning sees it, playing where Connolly would be dominant and focused on offense would not be best for his overall development.

Yzerman said he would like to see the rules tweaked so players who have played three junior seasons, such as Connolly, can be sent directly to the minors.

"These rules are in place for a reason. They're trying to protect junior hockey," Yzerman said. "We're not trying to raid junior hockey, but we look at Brett. Part of the reason we wanted to keep him is that it felt like it was time for him to play against stronger competition at a higher pace. Junior hockey is good, but he's had three years."

And so unless the Lightning completely falls out of the playoff race, when Yzerman said perhaps he might reconsider, Connolly is with the Lightning, even if he has to watch occasionally from the bench.

"It's part of the process of being an NHL player," Yzerman said.