Brad Richards consolation prize? Maple Leafs sign Tim Connolly for two years, $9.5M

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the most talked-about teams when it came to the Brad Richards sweepstakes, but either the Leafs felt like he was too expensive or Richards didn’t feel comfortable committing to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the lockout. Whatever the case may be, Richards is a member of the New York Rangers for a risky nine-year term and Toronto needed to move on.

The Maple Leafs did just that this afternoon by making a gamble of their own, signing former Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly to a two-year deal worth $9.5 million. This deal constitutes a minor $250K per year raise for Connolly, whose two-year, $9 million deal expired with Buffalo this off-season.

Why it’s a risky move for Toronto

Connolly is one of the league’s most fragile players. After playing almost every game for the first four years of his career, a litany of injuries hampered the shifty playmaker for the last six seasons. Here’s a summary of his recent history (all with the Sabres).

2005-06 season: 63 games played, 55 points scored
2006-07 season: 2 games played, 1 point scored
2007-08 season: 48 games played, 40 points scored
2008-09 season: 48 games played, 47 points scored
2009-10 season: 73 games played, 65 points scored
2010-11 season: 68 games played, 42 points scored

As you can see, he misses at least nine games per season with some especially heavy losses from 2006-2009. In fact, there were some serious questions about his ability to play hockey for a living when things got really bad. Sure, he missed “only” 23 regular season games in the last two seasons, but he also suffered a concussion at the hands of Mike Richards during the 2011 playoffs that cast some more doubt on his long-term health.

Again, his fragility makes even a two-year deal a bit risky.

Why it might work out

That being said, when Connolly is reasonably healthy, he’s a few strides short of a point per game player. No one should doubt his ability to create offense; Connolly should help Phil Kessel approach (but not necessarily top) his goal-scoring peak years with superior passer Marc Savard in Boston.

And, yes, a two-year deal certainly makes it less of a gamble than what they would have needed to give Richards. It’s a bit surprising that they needed to give Connolly a per-year raise since he probably didn’t have that much value on the free agent market. Yet when you consider the kind of ridiculous deals being handed out for less talented and less proven players, $4.75 million isn’t a terrible cap hit to deal with for two seasons.

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When judging the success of most free agents, the clearest barometer for success is how close they came to justifying (or heavens forbid, eclipsing) the value of their deals. For Connolly and the Leafs, it’s more about him merely being in uniform. Toronto should be happy if he can play between 65-72 games per season; anything more is maple syrup-flavored gravy.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins

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Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff hopes are basically squashed, but Sunday should provide plenty of motivation: giving the Pittsburgh Penguins grief.

The two rivals will face off on NBCSN tonight with the Penguins hoping to improve their situation in the three-team Metropolitan race for the division crown (and, failing that, at least one round of home-ice advantage).

The Penguins must fight injuries and a cross-state rival. There should be plenty of talent on the ice, too, so this should be a fun one.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Video: Doc Emrick takes a look back at Joe Louis Arena memories

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Sunday’s overtime win against the Wild wasn’t the last hurrah for the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, but that time is rapidly approaching.

The Red Wings have four more dates at the historic building:

April 1: vs. Maple Leafs
April 3: vs. Senators
April 8: vs. Canadiens
April 9: vs. Devils

With the playoffs out of reach, Red Wings fans must grapple with the end of an era.

To help with that cause, Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena, which you can enjoy in the video above.

And, if it helps make the future look a little rosier, take a look at highlights from Sunday’s victory.

Goalie nods: Henrik Lundqvist returns for Rangers

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After missing nearly three weeks due to a lower body injury, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the New York Rangers on Sunday night when the team visits the Anaheim Ducks.

Coach Alain Vigneault already said that Lundqvist is expected to start two of the three games on this west coast trip, and after Antti Raanta started and recorded the shutout in Los Angeles on Saturday night it seems that Lundqvist will finish the trip with starts against the Ducks and then again on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

Lundqvist has not played since March 7 when he stopped 43 out of 45 shots in a win over the Florida Panthers.

It was that game that Lundqvist suffered the injury that kept him out of the lineup.

Raanta played every game for the Rangers during his absence and continued what has been a strong season as Lundqvist’s primary backup, but if the Rangers are going to have a chance in the postseason they are not only going to need a healthy Lundqvist, but to also have him playing at the level he has been playing at over the past couple of months. Since the beginning of February Lundqvist has recorded a .931 save percentage in his 14 appearances for the Rangers.

Speaking of the postseason, the Rangers can clinch a spot in the playoffs on Sunday night with a win over the Ducks.

No official word from the Ducks on their starter on Sunday, but look for Jonathan Bernier to get an opportunity to continue his recent hot streak.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— It was Devan Dubnyk going against Jimmy Howard in the early NBC game between the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings.

Keith Kinkaid gets the start at home for the New Jersey Devils when they go against the Dallas Stars, who will be countering with Kari Lehtonen.

Matt Murray goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they host their cross-state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers went with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday so look for Steve Mason on Sunday.

Michael Hutchinson will be in net for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have not announced their starter, but after Richard Bachman got the start on Saturday it should be Ryan Miller in net for this one.

Wild’s struggles continue with OT loss to Red Wings

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Well, the good news for the Minnesota Wild is Sunday’s game in Detroit wasn’t anywhere near as embarrassing as their game on Saturday. They were at least competitive in this and took the game to overtime to earn a point in the standings.

The bad news is the result was pretty much the same — another loss in the standings.

Thanks to Andreas Athanasiou‘s 17th goal of the season 1:52 into the overtime period, the Red Wings were 3-2 winners on Sunday afternoon, sending the Wild to their 11th loss in 14 games this month.

The game continues Minnesota’s late-season collapse that has seen the team lose its stranglehold on the Central Division and play some of its worst hockey of the season with the playoffs just around the corner. They have collected just seven out of a possible 28 points in the standings this month and still sit seven points back of the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the division after Sunday. The Wild led the division by five points at the start of the month.

As bad as another loss is, this was far from the Wild’s worst game during this recent stretch. They limited Detroit to just 19 shots on goal, they had their chances to win it. But at the end of the day nobody in Minnesota wants to hear that right now because it’s still a loss, and it still looks like a team that is struggling to find answers on the ice. Not really the type of thing you want to see at this time of year.

Minnesota actually entered the third period with a 2-1 lead but let it slip away early in the period on a Tomas Tatar power play goal 55 seconds in. The Wild had their share of chances late in the game only to have Jimmy Howard make a couple of huge stops on Eric Staal and Jason Zucker in the final minute.

Staal did score his 26th goal of the season earlier in the game to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.

As for the Red Wings, the win is their fourth in their past six games (and the fifth with at least a point during that stretch) while Henrik Zetterberg continued his recent strong play recording another assist.

Defenseman Mike Green also scored in the win.