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Numbers Game: Maple Leafs bring in Connolly

Scott Cullen
7/2/2011 9:17:19 PM
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Forced to Plan B on the free agent market, the Toronto Maple Leafs found a playmaking centre.

Numbers Game looks at the Leafs' signing of Tim Connolly.

The Maple Leafs Get: C Tim Connolly

Connolly, 30, has generally been a productive playmaking centre when he's been in the lineup; unfortunately, few players have missed as much time Connolly (190 games missed over the last six seasons) due to a never-ending stream of injuries.

It says something about his tendency to get hurt that his 141 games played over the last two seasons is the most he's had in back-to-back seasons since 2001-2002 and 2002-2003.

Since the lockout, Connolly has scored 250 points in 302 games (.83  points per game), which ranks 49th in points-per-game among players that played at least 200 games in that span. It's not super-elite production, but well above average.

When the Maple Leafs couldn't land Brad Richards to centre Phil Kessel's line, they quickly turned their attention to Connolly who, for all of his shortcomings, was the second most talented centre available as a free agent.

With a career-high of 18 goals (set during a 2008-2009 season in which he played just 48 games), Connolly isn't going to score a lot of goals, but he can create opportunities for his linemates because he has the puck skills to make creative moves against NHL defenders that few are willing to try, so he does have the tools to be the playmaking centre that the Leafs covet.

Yet, with all that physical talent, Connolly had just 27 points in his first 52 games last season and hasn't scored a goal in his last 29 playoff games, so there have been glaring lapses in consistency that will come under the spotlight in Toronto -- something with which Kessel is already all-too-familiar.

So, yes, Connolly has his flaws and two years at $9.5-million is a little pricey for his production, but the short term of the deal is appealing and the Maple Leafs improved their team by adding Connolly. If he somehow manages to stay healthy, his skills should make him a good complement to Kessel (and, presumably, Joffrey Lupul) on a scoring line. Connolly has also played with Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur in his Buffalo days, so there may be some chemistry to explore there as well. 

Buffalo has already added plenty of talent in anticipation of letting Connolly leave as a free agent, so they're not going to be put in the position of needing to react to his departure.

This acquisition doesn't make the Maple Leafs drastically better but, under the circumstances, they could have done worse. It will be fascinating to see if Kessel and Connolly, two enigmatic, yet talented players can somehow thrive together.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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