“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.”
-- Boris Pasternak
There seems to be an odd disconnect in the career of Conor Sheary with regard to production and compensation. Part of it is his being the victim of circumstance, and perhaps part owing to an underestimation of his offensive potential. Undrafted as an amateur, he spent four years skating for the University of Massachusetts – Amherst before he was signed by the AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014. Nine months later, he signed a free agent contract with the parent Pittsburgh club for two years and $1.85 million. In three seasons with the Penguins he displayed a scoring knack, posting 48 goals and 93 points in 184 games.
Before that third season with the Pens, he signed a three-year/$9.0 million contract. But then, he became a salary cap casualty and was traded to the Buffalo Sabres with Matt Hunwick for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft. He returned to the Pens in February 2020, but after going 1-3-4 n eight games, he entered the free agent market once more, signed by the Caps in December 2020 to a one-year/$735,000 contract. Establishing himself as a dependable support player in an offensive role (he would finish the season 14-8-22 in 53 games), he was re-signed by the Caps to a two-year/$3.0 million deal in April 2021.
Odd Sheary Fact… Not only does Conor Sheary have the odd combination of the same number of career goals and assists (86 in each category), he has 76 career even strength goals and 76 even strength assists, ten power play goals and ten poser play assists.
Odd Sheary Fact II… Conor Sheary is the all-time leader among University of Massachusetts-Amherst alumni in goals scored in the NHL (86) and is second among alumni in assists (86).
Fearless’ Take… Conor Sheary is an underrated hockey player. In six NHL seasons his per-82 game scoring line is 19-19-38, despite averaging less than 14 minutes of ice time per game (13:45). His goals per 60 minutes over those six seasons (0.89) is better than Matt Duchene (0.88), Joe Pavelski (0.87), Johnny Gaudreau (0.87), and Mika Zibanejad (0.86). His 12.6 shooting percentage is better than Gaudreau (12.2), Filip Forsberg (12.5), Patrick Kane (11.9), and Phil Kessel (11.6). His 52.2 percent shot attempts on-ice at 5-on-5 is better than Taylor Hall (51.9), John Tavares (51.8), Alexander Barkov (51.7), and Connor McDavid (51.6). His penalties drawn per 60 minutes (0.79) is better than Steven Stamkos (0.77) or Auston Matthews (0.77). He produces, but does so with little fanfare.
Cheerless’ Take… Sheary is a mystery, we will give him that. Perhaps his size (5’9”/178) leads some to think he cannot take the pounding of more minutes. And there is the matter of his playing for three teams in a six year career. Part of that was his being a salary cap casualty in Pittsburgh, but one wonders if he is just good enough to contribute, for a time, yet serve as one of those “trade capital” players who is valuable as a trade asset.
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…
- 400 career NHL games played (currently 378)
- 100 career goals (86)
- 100 career assists (86)
- 200 career points (172)
- 100 career penalty minutes (76)
The Big Question… Can he do it again?
Conor Sheary was a bit of a surprise in 2020-2021, posting 1.2 goals per 60 minutes, his best output since he potted 1.4 goals per 60 minutes for Pittsburgh in 2016-2017 and the first time he was over 1.0 goals per 60 minutes since that season. The Caps were 11-0-1 in the 12 games in which he recorded a goal, 14-1-1 in the 16 games in which he recorded a point. And even when engaged physically, the Caps were successful, going 14-2-0 in the 16 games in which he was credited with at least one hit. And the thing is, his performance was not unusual in his career context. He recorded double digits in goals in each of his last five seasons, and although his total points show a decline over those seasons, that is a function of his assist totals. Sheary has not been flashy, but he has been productive, and it would be no surprise if he was to duplicate, or even improve upon his first season with the Caps.
In the end…
Last season, Conor Sheary might have been the best value player in the NHL. Among 83 forwards with cap hits from $700,000 to $1.0 million (Sheary had a cap hit of $735,000), he led the cohort in goals (14) and tied Colin Blackwell in points (22; source: capfriendly.com) He was as productive as one could hope for in a bottom six forward. Whether he can provide similar value with a $1.5 million cap hit this season is an open question, but his history would indicate he can provide timely production, even if it does not get a lot of attention. A 15-goal, 30-point season might be a surprise, but it shouldn’t be.
Projection: 74 games, 15-12-27, minus-2