Dave Nonis has moved quickly to clear up the logjam or excess forwards at training camp as he has waived Tim Connolly. This comes on the heels of the Matthew Lombardi trade that saw the centre moved to Phoenix in exchange for a conditional draft pick in 2014. The effect of these two moves should be to accomplish what Leafs fans have been clamouring for a while: to move out players that have no future with the club to open up spots for players that have shown they are too good for the AHL. Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri both fall into that category and it is incumbent on them to seize this opportunity.
James Mirtle had a good article about Connolly last night which focused on how he had a better year than he is given credit for last year despite the fact that he was horribly miscast. Originally brought in to play as the centre between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul he produced close to his career numbers with the pair but was ultimately moved off of that line in what I assume was related to finding a better balance to the lines. He didn't get the powerplay time that he had had in Buffalo and thus is widely seen incorrectly as a bust. As James noted, he had asked for a bigger role and it looks like after further evaluation that Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis do not think the team benefits from providing him that role.
The next step will be to see if the Leafs use a compliance buyout on Tim Connolly. They have at least one candidate they'd probably want to use it on next summer in Mike Komisarek. Otherwise, I think they are safe to do so but I think that some team may be interested in Connolly so that might not be necessary. However, if they decide that it is then I think they're safe to do so. As for what this may mean for any possible trade for Roberto Luongo, the Leafs seem to have moved on. They've cleared out two veterans to give possible pieces of the trade ice-time and have stripped out some of the NHL depth that the team had. If the moves works and the kids pan out then that's great news. If not, then the Leafs will still have their first round pick. While the lines look much improved, they certainly don't look like anything that you'd make short-term moves to support.
Update On Compliance Buyout
There has been some question about why it makes sense for the Maple Leafs to buyout Tim Connolly as he is a pending UFA and I wanted to clarify my thinking and guess at why the team might pursue it.
The Gomez Rule (screw Redden) is explained as follows:
These players cannot become unrestricted free agents until they are placed on, and subsequently clear, waivers.
The buyouts come without any significant benefit to teams such as the Canadiens and Rangers, at least this year. Both teams will pay the player 100 percent of the salary owed this year while carrying the full cap charge for the 2013 season, sources told ESPNNewYork.com.
The hit will come off the cap this summer, and the buyout will revert to two-thirds spread out for the remaining years, or one-third the salary if applicable (players 26 and under).
The buyout payments, which only can be used on a player with an annual average value of $3 million or more, also will count against the players' share in each year the payments are made, a source told ESPN.com.
In terms of Connolly's cap hit, it is currently $4.75M so if the Leafs shuttled him down he would account for $3.65M towards the Leafs' cap (everything over $900K on a deal in the AHL counts towards the NHL team's cap per the new CBA MOU) and he would once again be taking a roster spot from a developing player. That isn't necessarily the worst thing as Mike Zigomanis is an important role model for the kids. However, I don't know that, based on Mirtle's interview, that he would want to play that role for one year. The Leafs basically have to do the calculus and determine a few things: What are the odds that they have to use two compliance buyouts? What are the odds that Connolly is a good soldier on the Marlies? What effect does his presence in the lineup have on the development of the other players? What effect does buying him out have on goodwill throughout the league?
Obviously, they'll look at it differently than others (they might believe the players' goodwill argument for one but I don't) but from my point of view paying $900K to not disrupt the Marlies' development if I know that the odds are heavily tilted towards only needing or using one compliance buyout then I make the move. If I suspect that John-Michael Liles may join Komisarek as a compliance buyout or that I think Connolly can benefit the Marlies then I don't. The cap hit damage for this particular year is not insignificant but if there are no other plans for that money then it is palatable in the short-term.