Glass Dreams and Sloppy Seconds?

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Let me guess, Tim Connolly isn’t what you hoped for? Well, to tell you the truth he wasn’t for this writer. Then again, Tim Connolly was the 2nd best center available in this year’s free agency and an option for an upgrade at center without having to give up assets.

I’d be the first to admit I didn’t like the idea of overpaying for Brad Richards. Not only were his term demands only considered reasonable by New York and Glen Sather, I’m just not sure their logic of aggressively signing free agents is a sound one. It didn’t exactly single handedly win Cups or produce any real results in the past. I did however silently pray that Richards would reconsider his term demands and that John Tortorella said something bad about his mother. Both reasons of course leading him to Toronto. There is a reason why you can’t bank on a free agent with the freedom to chose his own destination, however. With the Rangers seemingly the front runner all along and the rest of the teams mentioned mere pawns to increase Pat Morris’ bargaining power, sadly it didn’t happen, and in the words of the immortal hockey hero Sean Avery, we’re left with sloppy seconds.

Now for my overly optimistic or very reasonable assessment (depends which camp you’re in) of Tim Connolly. Firstly, I don’t like referring to a 65 point NHL player as sloppy seconds, however oft injured he might be. Secondly, this might just be the only player in Free Agency so far that hasn’t been badly overpaid and actually wants to play in Toronto. To me, that means something.

His annual cap hit of 4.75 million is larger than what Burke would ideally offer a player with his injury history but is also only 250 000 dollars more than what he was getting with Buffalo on his previous contract. If you compare that to the $4,500,000 deal Ville Leino signed with the Sabres (3,675 000 increase on his previous contract, 19 goals last year) or the $3,500,000 Scottie Upshall is getting in Florida ($1,250,000 increase on his last deal, never had more than 34 points in the NHL) I’d say that’s pretty fair money. The contract is also well structured as Connolly is getting $5.5 in his first year with the Leafs and $4 mil in his second year.

Now for the part you really don’t want to hear. During his 10 season long NHL career, Tim Connolly has missed 193 regular season games, 91 of them during the last 4 years of his career. 23 of those games coming in the last two seasons. If anything, at least the frequency/severity of injuries is dipping.

Connolly also fills a positional need the Leafs had. While he may not be a high end first line NHL center, he is and always has been a truly skilled passing and playmaking center.

The term of the contract (2 years) doesn’t hurt the Leafs that much if he does spend a good amount of it injured. Provided he stays injury free, career high numbers are not beyond the realm of reason since it’s probable he’ll be playing with Phil Kessel. I don’t know about you, but a healthy Connolly is a much better fit in the one hole than Tyler Bozak. This signing also leaves us with plenty of cap space, wiggle room and buys development time for the likes of Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne.

Tim has a career plus minus rating of -41 which may sound bad, but he has been a plus player in 5 out of his last 6 NHL seasons. Look for him to improve the PP with his slick passing ability; his shiftiness with the puck can open up space on the ice but he has to work on his strength in order to maximize that ever present but never fully grown NHL potential. I’m sure the Maple Leafs staff will stress exactly that. The combination of him and Liles should give the PP a much need shot in the arm.

To tell you the truth, injuries aside, I’ve always been a fan of his skillset and always looked for more out of him as a player. Sadly it never came, but I’m hoping that is about to change with the blue and white. This is where we find out if glass can fly.