Ryan Miller, Tim Connolly

Ryan Miller responds to critics of his former teammate Tim Connolly


In the grand scheme of things, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a reasonable gamble by signing Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this off-season.

It’s true that the price tag is a bit steep, but the term is what makes the deal solid for both sides. Connolly gets more security than the one-year offers you’d expect him to receive elsewhere (and also might benefit from some extra time to get his feet wet in the hyper-scrutinized atmosphere that is Toronto) while the Maple Leafs limit the risk that comes with adding a notoriously injury prone player.

James Mirtle did a nice job of succinctly pointing out the pros and cons of Connolly. Even after throwing out some struggles with injuries in his earlier seasons, the shifty pivot missed 190 games since the lockout. With that risk comes a considerable reward, though; Connolly scored 250 points in the 302 games he managed to play in since the lockout.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Signing Connolly is a substantial risk and while my main question would be about his health, The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons lingered upon character issues that have been raised. Simmons spoke with many who watched Connolly’s career, including the man who drafted him in 1999: Mike Milbury.

When you ask hockey people questions about Connolly the first thing they ask in return is: “Can we go off the record?” They want to tell you the story or at least their version of the story. They just don’t want their names attached to the Maple Leafs’ $9.5 million signing. Among the terms used to describe Connolly are: Soft. Sullen.

Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player. Almost the opposite of what you expect most hockey players to be.

And one more thing: Supremely skilled.

“We thought he would be great for us,” said Milbury, who traded him after two seasons to Buffalo in a deal for Michael Peca after a trade with Boston for Jason Allison fell through. “It just didn’t work out for us the way we thought it would with Tim.”

Connolly’s time with the New York Islanders almost seemed too brief to truly gauge the man or the player, but he spent nine up-and-down years with the Buffalo Sabres. While there’s an impression that Connolly fell out of favor with members of the media and (in some cases) Sabres fans, his former teammate Ryan Miller stuck up for him  – and called out some “talking heads” in the process – on Thursday.

“It’s unfortunate the media hasn’t even let him get on the ice before starting with this crap,” Miller said Thursday.

“I think some people in the media [in Buffalo] felt like he owed them explanations beyond what he cared to share, and it just became a little bit of a vendetta. From my perspective, the only thing Tim doesn’t care about is what the talking heads think about him. He cares about hockey fans, he cares about winning and he cares about his teammates.

“In my book, that’s all that matters.”

When it comes to the thoughts of Toronto media types and Maple Leafs fans alike, Connolly’s successes or failures during the next two season will be all that matters.

It’s likely that he’ll line up on the team’s top scoring line with Phil Kessel, another talented player who has his fair share of critics. That combination could go either way. The two talented forwards could mesh beautifully, with Connolly setting up Kessel for a staggering amount of goals. On the other hand, Connolly and/or Kessel might run into another wall of injuries and raise the ire of fans in the process. There’s also the chance that they could experience a little bit of both.

Either way, the Maple Leafs are a tough team to gauge going into the 2011-12 season. If nothing else, they should be a lot more interesting to watch, though.

Friday’s loss serves as ‘harsh lesson’ for Blue Jackets

Jasper Fast, Nick Foligno, Henrik Lundqvist
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Late in the third period of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, things were looking good for Columbus.

Brandon Saad, who the team acquired from Chicago this off-season, scored his first goal of the season to give his team a 2-1 lead with under four minutes remaining in the contest.

Unfortunately for the Jackets, that’s as good as it would get.

The Rangers responded with three unanswered goals from Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to spoil Columbus’ home opener.

“When something like that happens at the end, I think we’re gonna be a better team because of it,” defenseman Ryan Murray told reporters after the game. “It’s a harsh lesson, but it’s a good one.

Luckily for Columbus, they won’t have to wait very long to try and get their revenge.

The Blue Jackets and Rangers will finish off their home-and-home series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, which might not be such a bad thing for Columbus.

“It’s good that we get another chance tomorrow,” Saad said after Friday’s game. “We were high on emotions (after the go-ahead goal) and they scored and it took the wind out of our sails, but we have to keep playing. We have to learn to keep doing our thing, regardless of the score.”



Kings GM says Mike Richards went into ‘a destructive spiral’

Mike Richards

The Los Angeles Kings may owe Mike Richards money until 2031 (seriously), but in settling his grievance, the team and player more or less get to turn the page.

Not before Kings GM Dean Lombardi shares his sometimes startling perspective, though.

Lombardi has a tendency to be candid, especially in the press release-heavy world of sports management. Even by his standards, his account of Richards’ “destructive sprial” is a staggering read from the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman.

“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now – and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”

Lombardi provides plenty of eyebrow-raising statements to Dillman, including:

  • He believed he “found his own Derek Jeter” in Richards, a player who “at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport.”
  • Lombardi remarked that “his production dropped 50 percent and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily.”
  • The Kings GM believes that he was “played” by Richards.

… Yeah.

Again, it’s a powerful read that you should soak in yourself, even if you’re unhappy with the way the Kings handled the situation.

Maybe the most pressing of many lingering questions is: will we get to hear Richards’ side of the story?