January 17 2013 11:32AM
Some interesting developments on the waiver wire on Thursday. It's a fairly rare occurrence that happens but during this week's roster crunch, teams have a chance to open doors to the hockey equivalent of baseball's "AAAA" players this week.
The first is Keith Aucoin, who was waived by the Leafs for the purpose of letting him continue skating on their first line with the Toronto Marlies. Him and his team-leading 37 points were claimed by the New York Islanders. There's a chance he could get another NHL shot.
The bigger story though, is who was placed on waivers Thursday. Tim Connolly was placed on there by the Leafs, along with a couple of players Toronto could use.
It's not too surprising that Connolly and his $4.5M cap hit were waived after last night's Matthew Lombardi trade. It's clear that Dave Nonis is opening up space for younger guys on the roster like Nazem Kadri or Matt Frattin. Nonis' hands were cuffed due to Connolly's salary and he isn't a readily-moveable guy given the criticism about his health.
When he's in the lineup, he can certainly still be a productive centreman, but I think that in a short season with lots of games, the Leafs are better off sticking with Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, Jay McClement and David Steckel in the middle, although there still may be more moves ahead.
Carlyle says Connolly didn't out play people they have kept. "We've got to get to 23 by tomorrow."— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 17, 2013
(James wrote an excellent take on Connolly last night. Not only does he battle his teammates for his spot, but there's also a perception issue when it comes to last season)
Back to Connolly though, the options were limited, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's traded after clearing waivers. Lots of waived players do end up being traded after clearance because teams will want to clear one of their contracts while picking up a player. With the Leafs showing they aren't shy about retained salary, paying Lombardi $1.5M to play in Phoenix, it does signal to other teams that Connolly could be had on the cheap. I think it's a good spot for the Leafs to flex some financial muscle and get some sort of draft pick in return.
I don't think he'll be bought out, though. With just a year left on the deal and the Leafs nowhere near the salary cap, there is no logical reason to do it. He'll be off the books this summer and allow Toronto to start anew. It was a signing from last year that didn't pan out—Connolly played only 70 games and scored 13 goals and 36 points—but was a good move at the time, particularly considering how some of the other deals signed at that time have handcuffed general managers even further down the line.
And another good point from our friend PPP, the moves in the last day indicate the end of the Leafs' interest in Roberto Luongo:
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.
At least for now. So much for all the theories about Burke's firing.
The Leafs will have to hold salary to trade him, but I think that's the eventual outcome. Nonis has proved effective at dismantling rosters effectively and the new collective agreement helps him out.
Meanwhile, in other interesting waiver news, Mike Santorelli was placed on waivers by the Florida Panthers Thursday as well. I've touted him as a replacement for Bozak and could be an upgrade at that position. Doubt that happens, although Nonis was no stranger to the waiver wire during his time in Vancouver.