Fresh off the heals of forward Matthew Lombardi being traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis continued to clean his hockey club of dead weight, electing to put underperforming forward Tim Connolly on waivers this afternoon.
Former Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke signed Connolly, 31, away from the Buffalo Sabres last summer via free agency, awarding the oft-disinterested forward with a hefty two-year, $9.5 million deal which carried with it a $4.75 million cap hit.
Originally drafted in the first round (fifth overall) in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, Connolly failed to live up to the high expectations that went with his being drafted so early in the 1999 draft. Connolly has 131 goals, 300 assists and 431 points through 697 career games split between the Islanders, Sabres and Maple Leafs, but many feel he has wasted his talents which could have earned him an All-Star career.
Despite Connolly’s long record of disappointing his teams, Burke was looking to Connolly to supply veteran leadership and set-up abilities to Toronto’s first line, centering Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. Sadly, Connolly rarely found his way onto Toronto’s first line. Injuries, lack of effort and poor play sidelined Connolly for a good portion of the 2011-12 season; limiting his play to just 70 games where he registered 13 goals, 36 points and a paltry minus-14 rating with the Blue and White.
Regardless of whether or not Connolly clears waivers on Friday, it appears as if his time with the Maple Leafs is done, clearing the way for Nazem Kadri to assume a role with the big club straight out of training camp.
Kadri, 22, has struggled to find his niche with the Maple Leafs limiting him to 51 career games with the big club in which he registered eight goals, 19 points and a minus-2 rating.
During his time with the Toronto Marlies at the AHL level, Kadri has been working on his defensive game, playing without the puck and finding a measure of consistency, which has dogged him for much of his career.
Kadri was called out by Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins for arriving at training camp with one of the teams’ worst body fat index’s. Through hard work on the ice, dedication to better nutrition and buying into playing the full 200-feet of ice, Kadri managed to put himself back into the Organizations good books.
Through 48 games with the Marlies in 2011-12 Kadri registered 18 goals, 22 assists (40 points) and a plus-2 rating. Kadri followed up a successful regular season with the Marlies with a three goals/ten point effort through 11 playoff games in which he registered an impressive plus-6 rating.
This season Kadri registered eight goals/26 points and a plus-5 rating through 27 games with the Marlies.
It appears as if Kadri will start the NHL season on the Maple Leafs third line, with a chance to earn top-six minutes should he continue to impress the Leafs’ brass. Kadri scored a hat-trick in Wednesday afternoon’s scrimmage, helping his team to a 5-1 win over goaltender James Reimers’ team.
With Lombardi and Connolly gone it appears as if Nonis has sent a clear message that those that do not perform up to expectations will be moved out, while also reinforcing the Organization’s commitment to developing young players and giving them their shot when ready.