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.

‘We should be embarrassed’: Blashill rips Red Wings after latest loss

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The Detroit Red Wings got off to a terrific start in 2017-18, as they were able to collect victories in four of their first five games of the season.

What made their start even more impressive, is that four of their first five contests were played on the road. They opened the season with a home win against Minnesota, and then took home two points in Ottawa, Arizona and Vegas. Their lone loss came in Dallas.

That positive start seems like it was a lifetime ago. The Red Wings have now dropped four games in a row to Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington and Vancouver.

After Sunday night’s loss to the Canucks, head coach Jeff Blashill had some choice words for his team’s lack of desire.

“It was a brutal effort,” Blashill said, per MLive.com. “I thought it was an embarrassing effort, not even close to the level of competitiveness you have to have. We should be embarrassed of ourselves, from me at the top all the way on down. We got out-competed, outworked, out-detailed.”

Detroit was outshot (37-21) and outchanced by a significant margin. And no disrespect to the Canucks, but they aren’t exactly a top team in the league.

(As you may have guessed, the Canucks are represented by the light blue line in hockeystats.ca’s possession chart).

Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Wings. They’re going to spend the week on the road (they’ll play three games in five days), as they’ll travel to Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida.

PHT Morning Skate: On David Booth escaping death last summer

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–The Flyers will be without Andrew MacDonald for a month. That might open the door for youngster Samuel Morin, who made the roster out of training camp. Morin’s NHL-ready, per the Flyers, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in. (Courier-Post)

–Team USA and Team Canada’s Women’s teams played the first game of the “The Time is Now Tour” in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. Team USA came out on top. (USA Hockey)

–The Score takes a look at three teams that made a big statement over the weekend. The Maple Leafs bandwagon has picked up a lot of steam since last season, but the Senators took care of them on Saturday night. (The Score)

–The Colorado Avalanche look better this year than they did all of last season, but they’ve been hit by injuries lately. Both Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher will miss an extended period of time. (Denver Post)

Riley Sheahan went 79 games without a goal last year, but the Penguins felt like a fresh start in a new city is exactly what he needed, so they went out and acquired him from Detroit over the weekend.  “It’s been a crazy last day, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I’m leaving behind a great organization and some great teammates, but I’m definitely excited for the change of scenery and to get started with such an awesome organization.” (Pittsburgh Tribune)

–David Booth, who is a trained pilot, had a scary experience last summer. After getting an invite to Ducks training camp at the last minute, he decided to fly to Anaheim on his own. Booth had some tense moments in the air after his engine failed. Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. (Sportsnet)

–Youngster Anthony Beauvillier has faced some adversity already this season. After a couple of mediocre performances, Beauvillier was made a healthy scratch. Now, he’s out to prove he belongs in the lineup every night. “You can always find positive things out of that but you never want to sit for a game,” Beauvillier said. “It’s kind of hard. You’ve just got to keep working hard when it does happen. You just have to go out there and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” (thesportsdaily.com)

–The Edmonton Oilers swapped Jordan Eberle to the Isles for Ryan Strome. Unfortunately for them, the deal hasn’t worked out so far, but there’s still plenty of time for Strome to figure things out. (Oilersnation.com)

–The Golden Knights have had some tough luck when it comes to keeping goalies healthy. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban are both out of the lineup right now. Don’t expect them to make a trade for a goalie because this season isn’t about wins and losses. It looks like Oscar Dansk will be their guy. (sinbin.vegas)

Niklas Kronwall, who played in his 800th game on Saturday night, has had plenty of issues with his left knee. In an attempt to get healthy, Kronwall admitted to trying stem cell therapy. “When you get to this point, you’re basically trying everything. That’s definitely something that’s out there and I think it’s becoming more and more, I don’t know if popular is the word.” (Detroit Free Press)

Max Pacioretty and the Montreal Canadiens are off to an awful start. As the losses continue to pile up, so does trade speculation. But Habs Eyes on the Prize believes that trading Pacioretty away would be a huge mistake. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

–Speaking of the Habs, Andrew Shaw was accused of using a homophobic slur in Anaheim on Friday night, but the NHL looked into the matter and decided he didn’t do what he was accused of doing. As you may remember, Shaw was suspended one game for using a homophobic slur a couple of years ago. (TSN.ca)

Jack Hughes, 2019 NHL top prospect, scores brilliant solo goal (Video)

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USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program side is off to a great start in the United States Hockey League this season. They’ve won their first four games, are the highest scoring team in the league (27) and may have already locked up goal of the season.

Jack Hughes, a 2019 NHL draft prospect, made the Green Bay Gamblers defense look mighty silly during a 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon.

At first watch, if you’re strictly paying attention to Hughes, you might think Team USA is on a power play. But then you realize there are five skaters in black despite what seems like a lot of space for the 16-year-old to work with.

Hughes, who’s tied for second in league scoring with seven points, finished with three points on the afternoon and is already being dubbed the “Next One.” We’ll be hearing a lot of his name over the next year and a half as June 2019 approaches.

“He’s a special player,” said Barrie Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk to the Toronto Sun’s Mike Traikos last spring. Hawerchuk had planned on taking Hughes No. 1 overall in last year’s OHL draft before he decided to go the NTDP route. “He’s so fast and a such a great skater. But he’s also got great instincts. He thinks the game on another level.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Canucks continue Red Wings’ slide

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Player of the Night: Sven Baertschi

Last season, Baertschi was a bright spot for a dismal Vancouver Canucks team, generating new career-highs in goals (18) and points (35) in 68 regular-season games.

The 25-year-old carried over some of that momentum early on, generating three points in seven games, but they were all assists. Sunday marked his best moment of 2017-18, as Baertschi scored his first two goals of the campaign (giving him five points in eight contests).

Bo Horvat is the honorable mention in the Canucks’ 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings, collecting his first two assists of the season. Jake Virtanen also found the net for his first goal of the season.

(As an aside, Derek Dorsett somehow has five goals already in 2017-18. Dorsett’s career-high is 12 goals, but he’s already in range of tying his second-best mark of seven.)

Highlight of the Night: Why not go with Baertschi’s two goals?

Factoid of the Night: This marks the fourth straight loss for the Red Wings, dropping them to 4-4-1 after a promising 4-1-0 start. But the hits could keep coming.

Beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Sabres in Buffalo, Detroit will play three straight road games and seven of their next eight away from home. The bright side is that they’ll enjoy a ton of contests at their expensive new pad starting in mid-November, but the next few weeks could really dim whatever optimism the Red Wings built up early on.

(For pro-tanking Red Wings fans, this might not be such a bad thing.)

Sunday’s lone score: Canucks 4, Red Wings 1