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.