In the midst of a pandemic that shut down the world, Conor Sheary felt frozen in time.
As the offseason rolled on with no start to the season in sight, free agency slowed down, providing a wave of uncertainty.
Finally, the schedule was locked in and teams came back around to the utility forward. It was near the end of December that he’d ink a one-year, $735K deal with the Washington Capitals.
“It was a lot of patience, a lot of waiting around... it was just a bit more stress on myself and my family at home,” Sheary said earlier in the year. “At the end of the day, I think I ended up in the right spot.
Coming in, the 28-year-old’s exact role was up in the air. General manager Brian MacLellan said he envisioned Sheary being a “middle-six forward,” but that he’d been up and down the lineup and could provide versatility and fit in a number of places.
Whatever the case would be, Sheary knew that the expectations were high, and he was reminded that he’d have to fight for his spot in the lineup.
“The coaching [staff] and the management gave me some confidence that I was going to help the team win... I’m just going to come to work every day and try to prove myself,” Sheary promised before the start of the season.
He’s done that and more. Through 42 games, the two-time Stanley Cup champion has 12 goals (fifth on the team) and 20 points while averaging 13:10 TOI per game. Offensively, he’s a staple on the second power-play unit and a perfect fit on the third line who can even play top-6 minutes if the occasion rises. Defensively, he takes good care of the puck, can win battles, force turnovers and has great vision and awareness in his own end.
“I came into a winning team and a winning culture, and I think I fit into kind of that mold,” Sheary explained. “I’m a complimentary player who can play up and down the lineup and with the skill and talent on this team, I was able to fit in seamlessly and have success.”
Peter Laviolette and the front office quickly took notice of Sheary’s effort. He get a bump in ice time and earn a permanent spot in the lineup, and in March, the team contacted his agent to start to put together an extension.
Around a month and a couple of phone calls later, Sheary signed a two-year, $3 million extension and called the deal a “no brainer” as he got the job security he was searching for just an offseason ago.
“Obviously I’m having a pretty good year, but after what I went through last summer, you never know what the summer’s going to bring. Nothing’s guaranteed right now with the flat cap and COVID era,” Sheary pointed out. “There’s so many unknowns... I’m super happy and I’m very grateful I got this opportunity, so I jumped on it.”
What’s impressed Peter Laviolette the most, though, isn’t so much the stat line, but the effort.
“What you really got to like about [the extension] was it wasn’t handed to him,” Laviolette said, adding, “He came into camp and he had to fight for his opportunity, and when he got his opportunity, he had to continue to push, continue to fight and make a case.”
Sheary stays with a hot stick! pic.twitter.com/li6TUVRmd1— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 13, 2021
That constant fight and push has helped Sheary excel and stay hot, especially of late. He has four goals and six points in his last four games and has shown consistency over the course of the season. He goes hard to the net and does what he can to generate scoring chances, and his speed and vision go a long way for D.C.
“We try to play a high-pace game, which is big for me. The speed game is huge and there’s lots of guys who can score... I like to chip in when I can offensively,” Sheary explained.
“I think it’s a mix of a lot of things. i think i came into a winning team and a winning culture and i think i fit into kinda that mold. i’m a complimentary player who can play up and dwn the lineup with the skill and talent on this team i was able to fit in seamlessly and have sucesss. it was a no-brainer for me when i was offered the contract to come back.”
As Sheary looks forward to the rest of his Washington tenure and gears up for the playoffs, he can’t help but smile when he thinks of the good that has come out of this season. Beyond his play, he and his wife, Jordan, welcomed a daughter, Mila Sheary, on Feb. 6 at 4 a.m.
A couple of months later, the former UMass Minuteman would watch his alma mater capture the NCAA Championship title.
“It’s been a lot. The birth of my daughter has been a blessing for my wife and I. The last two months have been something special and a big change in our lives,” Sheary said. “The UMass win was huge too. It’s great for the program, to see it finally get some recognition, and then the contract was the cherry on top... To be around for two more years is something I was really hoping for.”