Update: As expected, Connolly cleared waivers and will now join the Marlies. Under the new CBA, the Leafs can recall him at any time without going through the waiver process again. Expect to see him in a Leafs jersey at some point this season.
The Leafs continued to reshape their roster in the face of a shortened NHL season by dropping another veteran center.
Connolly was placed on waivers earlier today. His immediate future is unclear, but three possible fates await him: 1) he could be picked-up by another team; 2) he could find himself playing for the Marlies; or 3) he could be bought out, joining former Canadiens forward Scott Gomez on the sidelines of the new NHL season.
Connolly was originally brought to Toronto in the hopes that he could anchor the first line and push Phil Kessel to excel. However, that experiment never really worked out and Connolly quickly found himself pivoting the Leafs’ third line on most night instead.
Many people saw the addition of Connolly as a compromise for the team’s failure to sign marque centerman Brad Richards.
It would be an overstatement to say Connolly missed the mark last season. In 70 games, he scored only 36 points (13 goals, 26 assists). This compares poorly against his career-best 65 points (17 goals, 48 assists) in 73 games while playing for the Buffalo Sabres during the 2009-2010 season.
Neglected prospect Nazem Kadri will likely fill the void. In addition, the sudden opening of the logjam at center means the London, Ontario native has a good chance of remaining with the big club all season. To date, Kadri has never played more than 28 games in a single NHL season.
If the Leafs choose to buyout the remainder of Connolly’s contract, they’ll save $4 million in salary for the current season. Add to this the portion of Lombardi’s contract that the Leafs cut free yesterday (they agreed to pay a portion of it) and you’re looking at $6-7 million in salary savings over the last two days.
Although this might sound impressive, the potential savings against the salary cap are even greater. Lombardi and Connolly represent $8.25 million in cap space between them. This is more than enough to add a certain goalie from Vancouver without handcuffing the team in the future. Roberto Luongo carries a $5.33 million cap hit and is scheduled to make $6.72 million this season.
Personally, I don’t think Luongo will land in Toronto or that the Leafs really need him. One goalie isn’t going to fix all the problems that plague this team. Having said this, it does speak to some of the options available to the Leafs and the degree of financial freedom that the team currently enjoys.
They make not be able to claim many things in their name, but no one makes money or saves it quite like the Leafs.
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