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.

Draft lottery move could be a big turning point for Flyers

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Even though the Philadelphia Flyers did not win the top overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft on Saturday night, they were still probably the biggest winner of the day when they moved up to the No. 2 overall pick after starting at No. 13.

That means they will have an opportunity to come away with one of the top-two prospects in this year’s class, whether it be Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

For a team that has missed the playoffs in three of the past five seasons and hasn’t advanced beyond the first-round since 2012, it is a nice change in fortune.

General manager Ron Hextall was feeling pretty good about it on Saturday.

“We had a lot of bad luck this year,” said Hextall, via CSN Philly. “I’m hoping this is a turning point for some of that to be turned around. This is a big point for our franchise. We’re obviously going to get a very good player and hopefully in years, we’ll look back on this as a turning point for us.”

There is every reason to believe that it can be.

First, the Flyers are not your typical team picking at the very top of the draft that is full of holes and is basically starting over from scratch. This is a team that was in the playoffs a year ago and was at least in contention for a spot this year until the final month of the season. They already have established core players in place (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier) and some promising young talent just starting to break into the league (Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny). Adding a top-two pick to that is going to be a massive addition.

Keep in mind that other than the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, every Stanley Cup winner in the salary cap era has had at least one top-two pick in the NHL draft on its roster.

Those high draft picks are the best way to land impact players in the NHL, and given how rarely they get traded and how they are almost never available in free agency, it is often times the only way to land them.

Now the Flyers have an opportunity to get one when they probably weren’t expecting it.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Sunday, April 30

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The second-round continues on Sunday afternoon with another doubleheader of games on the NBC Networks.

All of the action starts at 3:00 p.m. ET when the Nashville Predators return home to host the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their series and look to rebound from their first loss of the postsesaon.

Then, at 7:00 p.m. ET, the Edmonton Oilers return home to what should be a frenzied crowd as they try to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Anaheim Ducks.

Here is all of the information you need for Sunday’s games.

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.