Ryan Miller responds to critics of his former teammate Tim Connolly

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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.

Caps re-sign Copley, who could be Holtby’s future backup

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Pheonix Copley, who returned to Washington this season as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade with St. Louis, has signed a two-year extension worth $1.3 million, the Caps announced on Wednesday.

The key wrinkle in the deal is that year one is of the two-way variety, while year two is of the one-way.

It’s worth mentioning because Philipp Grubauer — Washington’s current backup to starter Braden Holtby — is currently a restricted free agent, and believed to be have No. 1 potential.

The 25-year-old has capably served under Holtby for the last two years. He’s coming off an excellent campaign — 13-6-2, .926 save percentage, 2.05 GAA — and sounds like he’s ready to make the next step in his career.

“I would like to stay here; Washington is awesome and the whole organization’s been awesome the last couple of years,” Grubauer said, per the Post. “But I’m ready if the opportunity comes to make the next step and try to be a starting goalie somewhere.”

Grubauer was made available to Vegas at the expansion draft, but Golden Knights GM George McPhee opted to take blueliner Nate Schmidt instead. There are still rumblings that Washington might dangle Grubauer in trade talks.

Copley has a very small NHL resume — just two games, both with St. Louis — but fared very well with AHL Hershey last year. In 16 regular-season games he went 11-5-0 with a .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA and, in the playoffs, went 5-4 with a .933 save percentage and 2.13 GAA.

Report: Ryan Miller may land in Anaheim

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The Anaheim Ducks might be getting a former Vezina Trophy winner as their backup.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, “there is a lot of expectation of Ryan Miller to Anaheim for approximately $1 million, although I’m not sure if bonuses will be added to that.”

Miller, an unrestricted free agent, has spent the last three years in Vancouver. The Canucks would like to keep him; however, his wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress, so Southern California has always been a potential landing spot.

Also, let’s face it, Miller would have a much better shot at winning the Stanley Cup with the Ducks, and that’s something the 36-year-old has never done.

As for the Ducks’ motivations, signing Miller would give them a viable starting option should John Gibson struggle or get hurt again. Recall that Anaheim’s last backup, Jonathan Bernier, had a tough time after he was forced into action in the Western Conference Final.

Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

Jets have contacted Mason about goalie gig

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Though most signs point to Brian Elliott in goal for Winnipeg next season — see here and here — there are other options out there.

Per the Winnipeg Sun, the Jets have reached out to ex-Flyers netminder Steve Mason during the free agent interview window.

Mason, 29, just wrapped the last of a three-year, $12.3 million deal with a $4.1M average annual cap hit. He’s spent the last four-plus seasons with the Flyers but, over the last two, had been part of a platoon with Michal Neuvirth.

Mason played 58 games to Neuvirth’s 28 this year, but didn’t fare especially well, finishing with a .908 save percentage.

We bring this up because whoever signs in Winnipeg will likely have to concede some starts to Connor Hellebuyck, the one-time goalie of the future that struggled mightily through ’16-17. Hellebuyck is still only 24 and the hope is that last year can be spun as a positive learning experience.

“We went through a growing period and the goaltenders were exactly like that,” head coach Paul Maurice said of Hellebuyck’s campaign, per the Free Press. “Put them back in the net after a tough night, yanked [Hellebuyck] early a bunch of times.”

The Sun reports that Winnipeg was “one of several teams that inquired about Mason,” which isn’t surprising. He’d make for a high-caliber backup and a likely upgrade in a number of markets.

 

Bruins re-sign Acciari — two years, $1.45 million

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Looks like Noel Acciari will be around Boston for the foreseeable future.

Acciari, who has spent most of his career shuttling between AHL Providence and the NHL, has signed a two-year, one-way deal worth $725,000, the B’s announced on Wednesday.

Acciari’s contract comes after he appeared in 29 games for the Bruins last year, scoring five points. He also appeared in four of the club’s opening-round playoff games against Ottawa, scoring once.

The former Providence standout, who went undrafted, caught on with Boston in ’15-16 and quickly worked his way into the mix at the NHL level.

There’s a pretty decent chance he’ll eclipse the 29 games played last year, especially if the club doesn’t return veteran forwards Dominic Moore and Drew Stafford, both of whom become unrestricted free agents on Saturday.