Tim Connolly

Toronto’s potentially exciting, yet fragile, future at center


Trying to get things right in Toronto is a tricky thing for general manager Brian Burke. The team this summer was in need of a playmaker on offense to try and help out the goal scoring duo of Nikolai Kulemin and Phil Kessel. While both of those guys were 30+ goal guys without a real assist man up the middle, their potential to do even more damage is sky high if they can. That led to speculation about the Leafs interest in free agent Brad Richards when free agency began, but Burke made it clear they weren’t going to mortgage the future to get him.

Instead, Burke moved on to former Sabres center Tim Connolly and acquired injured scoring center Matt Lombardi from Nashville in the Brett Lebda-Cody Franson trade. Connolly and Lombardi have both had big offensive seasons in the past but both also have checkered injury histories as well.

While Connolly is healthy this offseason, Lombardi is still recovering from a concussion suffered last season. Oddly enough, however, hopes are high that Lombardi can do work with the team during training camp. The Leafs say, however, that they won’t rush him back.

For Connolly, he knows his own injury history is a point of concern for many Leafs fans but he tells NHL.com that he’s eager to get things going with a fresh start in Toronto.

Connolly is most likely the next first-line center under the microscope in Toronto, courtesy of a two-year, $9.5 million contract he signed in July. His game will be dissected like his body has been examined. Which, considering how often virtually every inch of his 6-foot-1 frame has been broken, torn or smashed, is a lot.

“I’m just looking forward to my time in Toronto, getting ready for that,” he said about shaking his injury jinx. “That’s what I’m thinking about now. I think the fan support there, it’s just a hockey town. I think it will be just an exciting experience for me.”

Should Connolly stay healthy all year and Lombardi finds a way to come back completely from the devastating concussion that ended his season early last year, the Leafs situation at center gets really interesting and talented all of a sudden. While the Leafs can’t actually count on getting anything from Lombardi, the skills he’s shown in the past had him as an emerging playmaker. His final year with Phoenix two seasons ago had him scoring 19 goals and adding 34 assists. Those 53 points were a career high and numbers he used to sign a nice two-year deal with Nashville before last season. Two games into that season it was all over.

For Connolly, he’s shown the ability to be a solid playmaker himself. Two seasons ago, he had a career year with 17 goals and 48 assists good for 65 points. If he can get back to that form and avoid injury (Connolly last played 80+ games back in 2002-2003) he could be a huge boost to the Leafs offense.

The Leafs depth chart at center with healthy Connolly and Lombardi would look awfully good:

  1. Tim Connolly
  2. Matt Lombardi
  3. Mikhail Grabovski
  4. Tyler Bozak
  5. Darryl Boyce
  6. Nazem Kadri (likely being moved to wing)

Having Lombardi there would be a luxury but it’d be a huge boost for their depth and offense. They’ll likely have to start the season without him there meaning Grabovski continues as the team’s #2 man up the middle and that’s just fine too as he had a breakout season last year. That said, if it means getting more offense and having to juggle positions and placements around, coach Ron Wilson will find a way to make it all work. After all, having a wealth of solid options is something the Leafs haven’t been able to claim for a few seasons.

Good health is the key here, obviously, and if the Leafs can get some of that and some good luck going as well, they could be a team that surprises people in the East. It’s not as if we haven’t seen teams come out of nowhere to win before as it happened with Tampa Bay just last season. For Leafs fans, however, a return to the playoffs would make Brian Burke the newest deity in Toronto.

Julien explains comments about Lundqvist’s ‘acting’

Claude Julien

We’re now over two days removed from last Friday’s tilt between the Bruins and the Rangers, but the coaches from both teams seem unwilling to move on.

Moments after that game, Claude Julien claimed that Henrik Lundqvist did some “acting” on the ice to sell a goalie interference call on Brad Marchand.

On Saturday, Alain Vigneault fired back by saying that Julien needed to get his eyesight checked. Vigneault also compared Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton in the 2011 Stanley Cup final to Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan in Friday’s game.

Now it was Julien’s turn to address the “issue” at hand.

Julien clarified his original comment about Lundqvist and he also tackled some of Vigneault’s comments.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what I said . . . I thought Lundqvist sold it,” said Julien. “Not for a second did I ever question Henrik Lundqvist as a person, or a goaltender or any of that. We all know how good he is as a goaltender, and I know he’s a good person. I’ve met him at the All-Star games and all that stuff.

Julien on his eyesight: “As far as my eyes, I’m not the one that compared Beleskey’s hit to Aaron Rome’s [hit]. We’ll just leave it at that.”

It’s time for both sides to move on.

Good news: Colaiacovo traveling with Sabres

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It was a scary sight.

Carlo Colaiacovo fell to his hands and knees after taking a cross-check to the throat from Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson (above).

Arvidsson received a five-minute major and a game misconduct, while Colaiacovo suffered a dented trachea on the play.

After the game, both Dan Bylsma and Peter Laviolette agreed that there was no malicious intent on Arvidsson’s part.

“I don’t think there was intent there to maliciously cross-check,” Bylsma said. “They kind of lose the puck, turn and his stick is right at that level and delivers a blow. When you look at it, it’s a pretty stiff cross-check to Carlo’s neck.”

“It was tough for Arvidsson,” said Laviolette. “I don’t think he had any bad intentions. He just ran into somebody and the stick got caught a little bit high, but just a tough turn of events.”

The Sabres defenseman left the game and was treated at a nearby hospital, but there is some good news to report.

According to the Buffalo News, Colaiacovo was released from hospital and he was able to travel to Detroit with his teammates.

It’s unclear how long he’ll be out.

Start the Carr: Habs recall another player from the minors

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There’s been a lot of movement between Montreal and Saint John’s lately and that continued on Sunday.

This time, it’s forward Daniel Carr who’ll be getting a stint with the big club.

Carr has no prior NHL experience.

The 24-year-old spent four years at Union College before joining the Canadiens organization as an undrafted free agent.

In his first season as a pro, Carr scored 24 goals (led the team) and 39 points in 76 AHL games with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2014-15.

This year, Carr has seven goals and 15 points in 20 games.

Montreal is without forwards Torrey Mitchell, Brendan Gallagher and Alexander Semin.

Campbell’s perfect snipe sinks Wings in OT


Brian Campbell doesn’t score as many points as he used to, but he came up with a huge goal against the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

With the game tied, 1-1, in overtime, Campbell skated into the slot and beat Petr Mrazek with a perfect wrister to end the game.

It was also a pretty nice passing play between Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Campbell.

Dylan Larkin opened the scoring in the second period before Reilly Smith leveled the score with just over five minutes remaining.

The Wings have blown a lead in three straight games.

Detroit was up 2-0 and 3-2 in their last game, against Edmonton, before they finally closed the game out with an overtime goal by Niklas Kronwall.

They weren’t so fortunate against the Bruins on Wednesday, as they lost 3-2 in OT after leading 2-1 with under two minutes remaining in regulation.

This was the first meeting of the season between Detroit and Florida, but they’ll see each other three times between Feb. 4 and Mar. 19.