The signing of Tim Connolly was announced earlier this afternoon. My first thought was how many people, particularly non-Leaf fans, will criticize the contract (2 years, $9,500,000) as a gross overpayment for a "40 point scorer". I even read "3rd line center" a few minutes ago. Here's every reason why I think this is a good signing.
1. $19,000,000+ in Cap Space
The Leafs have an awful lot of cap space. They still need to re-sign Luke Schenn, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, and Matt Lashoff, who I project to cost a combined $9,000,000, give or take a few mill. Add in Connolly and they will still wind up with 4-5 mill in cap space with 11 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies (assuming demotion of Matt Frattin). They only need to sign a 4th line center who will not cost very much (side note - I am not happy that Tim Brent was not re-signed, given he could've been kept for only $750,000; who will dive to block shots now?). Thus the $4,750,000 contract is not a big deal at all.
2. Two Year Deal
While we all watched other teams throw insane long term deals at every big name player, Burke takes the safe route with a 2-year deal. This ensures that Connolly will not be a financial issue down the road. Given the large cap space and short term deal, nothing bad can really happen. Even if he is a bust. He is not a long term solution at 1st line center, but the Leafs have no real other options right now. He is a good stop gap. The 2 year deal reflects that.
3. Very Good Per-Game Stats Post-Lockout
We know he is an injury risk (although Darren Dreger says he is healthy now). The 2-year deal protects the Leafs because he is injury-prone. But his per-game stats are impressive post-lockout. A lot of people will immediate say "$4,75 mill for 42 points is a waste". First of all it was 42 points in only 68 games. That's 51 points in 82 games. I know he won't play 82 likely but the 51 points shows his skill level more than 42. But that was only last year. In 2009-2010 he scored 65 points in 73 games, borderline for a 1st line center. In 2008-2009 it was 47 points in 48 games, easily a 1st line center. In 2007-2008 it was 40 points in 48 games. He missed most os 2006-2007, and 2005-2006 he scored 55 points in 63 games. Bottom line is that when considering points-per-game he can be a 60-70 point scorer.
4. He is an Exciting Player
Everyone who has watched him play knows he has great stickhandling skills. He will attempt some slick moves and pull some off. Some of you might remember a goal he scored vs the Leafs a few seasons ago, where he slid the puck between his legs and blew right by the defenseman. It was a highlight reel goal (1:16 of the below video). If nothing else we will enjoy watching him play.
5. He is Much Better than Tyler Bozak (and a good playmaker)
Instantly the Leafs will be better. He is a good playmaker and has a career high or 48 assists, much better than anyone on the Leafs. He will fit well with Kessel and Lupul, both pure goalscorers. Bozak will be a better fit as the 3rd line center and will have much less pressure on him.
So with that I insist that this was a good signing. The only bad thing I can think of is the likelihood that he gets injured and forces Bozak (or Kadri) to move back into the 1st line center position. No one should care about the dollar amount given the contract length and Leafs cap space. Given how much money was given to players like Erik Cole and Ville Leino, I fail to see how this is bad. The Leafs needed an improvement on their 1st line center and they got it. There will be no planning of parades but the Leafs will be better, even if it's only a few points in the standings. Better than nothing.