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Just as Pierre LeBrun of ESPN said earlier this week, there aren’t many people who believe Tim Connolly will be playing for the Buffalo Sabres next season. The veteran centre is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and could draw limited interest.
Connolly has been plagued by injury all through his ten-year career. In fact, the 30-year-old has played in less than 70 games in five of the last six seasons. Still, he has managed to put up good numbers. Last season, Connolly scored 13 goals and 29 assists in 68 games. The season before, he posted 17 goals and 48 assists in 73 games. Overall, he has 395 points in 627 regular season games.
The Maple Leafs’ lack of depth down the middle has been well documented by Leafs fans and media alike. Assuming Connolly does not re-sign with the Sabres, the Syracuse, New York native could become one of the Maple Leafs’ free agent targets.
Connolly has enjoyed a great deal of success against the Maple Leafs over the years. Since 2009, he has eight points in 11 games against Toronto. His shot and play making ability have been key to the Sabres’ dominance over the Leafs. That’s not to say that the Maple Leafs should sign Connolly just to take him away from the Sabres, though.
While he would not be the guy to fill the Maple Leafs’ gaping top-line centre hole, he would be ideal for the second line. He would be a great fit playing between Joffrey Lupul and Clarke MacArthur. If it doesn’t work out on the second line and Connolly begins to struggle, he could be demoted to the third line to play alongside Colby Armstrong. An Armstrong-Connolly combination gives the Leafs a duo of veterans that has spent a good chunk of time in the league both grinding it out and using their hands.
On a team that has only one player above 30 year of age─Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is expected to go to free agency this summer─Connolly would undoubtedly take a tremendous leadership role. Leadership is something the Maple Leafs seemed to lack last season, even though they actually had a captain.
Everything sounds good so far, right? Well there is one problem.
With just $19.4 million in cap space to sign Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarson and others with, Connolly would need to come at a cheap price. Unfortunately for the Leafs, he will likely ask for at least $2.3 million per season on a relatively long contract. If Burke plans on locking up most of his impending free agents, he may not have the space to acquire Connolly and a star player.
And isn’t a star player what everyone wants to see in Toronto?