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.

Lower-body injury will keep Ryan Pulock out for 4-6 weeks

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21: Ryan Pulock #6 of the New York Islanders skates against the Arizona Coyotes at the Barclays Center on October 21, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Well, this isn’t the start to the season Ryan Pulock was hoping for.

After playing six games with the Islanders during last year’s playoffs, many expected Pulock to make the team out of training, but that didn’t happen.

He didn’t spend much time in the minors (two games) because of the injury to Nick Leddy.

Pulock made his season debut in last night’s game against Arizona. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a lower-body injury after playing just 3:57.

On Saturday, the team announced that Pulock will be out anywhere between 4-to-6 weeks.

If Leddy can’t play on Sunday, the Islanders will have to recall another defenseman from the minors. Because they’re carrying three goalies, they only have room for six blue liners.

With Tuukka Rask banged up, Bruins recall Zane McIntyre on emergency basis

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Zane McIntyre #50 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the second period at TD Garden on September 22, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins recalled goalie Zane McIntyre on an emergency basis on Saturday morning.

The call up was necessary because it doesn’t look like starter Tuukka Rask will be able to suit up against the Montreal Canadiens tonight.

Rask missed Friday’s practice with what head coach Claude Julien described as “general body soreness,” but it might be a little more serious than that if he’s forced to miss multiple games.

According to Julien, Rask is feeling better, but the prefer giving him the night off.

The Bruins selected McIntyre in the sixth-round of the 2010 Entry Draft.

He’s never suited up in an NHL game before.

The 24-year-old turned pro last year, after spending three years at the University of North Dakota.

He had a 14-8-7 record with a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .898 save percentage with Providence in 2015-16. This season, he has a 0.44 goals-against and a .977 save percentage in three games.

It’s interesting to note that the Bruins preferred McIntyre to former first rounder Malcolm Subban.

Subban has an 0-3 record in the AHL this year and he’s been pulled in two of his three outings.

Guy Boucher won’t have ‘revenge’ on his mind during Saturday’s tilt against the Bolts

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Head coach Guy Boucher of the Ottawa Senators looks on from the bench against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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On Saturday night, Sens coach Guy Boucher will get his first crack at the Tampa Bay Lightning since they fired him during the 2012-13 season.

After being relieved of his duties, he had a hard time finding a head coaching gig in the NHL and was forced to move to Switzerland to stay behind the bench.

Despite the end result, Boucher says there’s no hard feelings between he and his old club.

“Maybe it’s the distance of the years, I’m very calm and almost cold about it,” Boucher said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s been too long. I guess if it was last year, or two months ago, and it was all the people I worked with, all the players I had, but I only coached two players. That’s it.”

Boucher’s tenure in Tampa Bay wasn’t all bad. He helped them reach the Eastern Conference Final in his first year as coach in 2010-11, but failed to make the playoffs the following season.

After a 13-17 start in 2012-13, the Lightning decided to go in a different direction.

But for a guy who had no previous NHL coaching experience, Boucher insists he’s just thankful for the opportunity his first team gave him.

“That’s why I’d love to say, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s a revenge day,’ and the whole big story so you can get a great story. But for me, I’m so grateful… Steve Yzerman and Mr. Vinik, Julien (BriseBois), I owe them a lot. As a family we had four years down there, a really good life. I was very fortunate he gave me the reins of an NHL team.”

He’s off to a good start with his new team, as the Sens are 3-1-0 heading into tonight’s game.

Canucks look to remain unbeaten on tough weekend road trip

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 15: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his game winning goal against the Calgary Flames during a shootout of their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks were a popular preseason pick to finish the 2016-17 season as one of the worst teams in the Western Conference. Who knows, when all is said and done they still might end up closer to the basement. But for now, the Canucks are — quite surprisingly! — the NHL’s last unbeaten team thanks to a 4-0-0 start that has included a bunch of one-goal wins, including three overtime games.

Relying on overtime and come-from-behind wins every night probably isn’t the best long-term strategy when it comes to winning games, but for right now it has worked, and the wins in October count just as much as the wins later in the season.

Every point helps.

If they want to remain as the NHL’s only unbeaten team through the weekend they are going to have to do it on a tough road trip that features a set of back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Any set of back-to-back games on the road is a tough situation, especially when you are talking about two teams that have been Stanley Cup contenders in recent years as the Kings and Ducks typically are. But this weekend swing may not be as daunting as it would have first appeared when the schedule came out.

They get a Kings team on Saturday that is off to a 1-3 start and has already given up 15 goals in four games. A lot of that is due to the absence of starting goalie Jonathan Quick. Backups Jeff Zatkoff and Peter Budaj have not played particularly well in his place. They didn’t get their first win until Thursday on a controversial overtime goal against Dallas.

Then on Sunday the Canucks make a visit to Anaheim to face the Randy Carlyle-led Ducks who are only 1-3-1 through their first five games while only scoring 10 goals.

In other words: Everything seems to be going Vancouver’s way right now. They are keeping teams off the scoreboard, finding ways to win, and even when they go on their first road trip of the season they are getting a pair of teams that are struggling. If they can somehow get through this set of back-to-back games they return home for another three-game home stand against Ottawa, Edmonton and Washington. So they have a great opportunity to get off to a fantastic start.