Tim Connolly, Ondrej Pavelec

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.


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.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.