Strong pushes from Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin in training camp ended veteran centre Tim Connolly's short, unhappy tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Connolly, 31, did not take part in the Leafs' open practice at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday, as he was placed on NHL waivers by Leafs general manager David Nonis. He is the second veteran centre to depart the Leafs in less than a day, as Matthew Lombardi was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for a conditional draft pick on Wednesday night.
This signals that Kadri, 22, has arrived as a Leaf centre, three and a half years after he was taken seventh overall in the NHL entry draft. He appears headed for a job on the third line with Komarov and James van Riemsdyk, although Frattin still has a shot on the wing. Indeed, Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said after Thursday's practice he has the lineup for Saturday's season-opener in Montreal against the Canadiens set in his head.
"But I'm not going to tell you," Carlyle added.
Nevertheless, he made it clear Kadri made a solid impression this week.
"I've said it before, Kadri has NHL skills," Carlyle said. "The question is can he do it consistently?
"He's been one of our strongest players [in training camp]."
Once Connolly got off to a slow start in training camp this week and it was clear he was not going to earn a spot among the Leafs' top six forwards, a quick roster decision was needed and it appears the decision was to go with youth.
"We just didn't see where he fit in our lineup," Carlyle said of Connolly.
Both Kadri, 22, and Frattin, 25, started well in a challenge to land jobs on the wing on the third line. Frattin played 56 games with the Leafs last season, getting only 15 points but he made a strong impression with the Leafs' brass. He built on that impression with a strong performance in the American Hockey League playoffs with the Toronto Marlies last spring before he hurt his knee. He had 16 points in 20 games with the Marlies before the NHL lockout ended.
However, Frattin has not impressed Carlyle as much as Kadri.
"I thought Frattin had some good days and some okay days," the coach said of Frattin's play in training camp this week. "He came off the American league with a bang [in the playoffs last spring] but in the last few weeks he hasn't been able to maintain that pace."
At this point, Komarov, 27, is getting most of the work at left wing on the third line with Kadri. However, both he and Frattin have a good chance to make the team if, for example, Carlyle decides to go without an enforcer in Colton Orr.
Since signing a two-year, $9-million (all currency) U.S. contract in the summer of 2011, Connolly has been a disappointment. It was hoped he could provide at least a temporary solution for the Leafs' lack of a bona-fide No. 1 centre but last season Tyler Bozak soon reclaimed his job between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul and Connolly finished with a mediocre 36 points. Mikhail Grabovski has a firm grip on the second-line centre's job so there was no room for Connolly.
Connolly will clear waivers Friday if no other NHL team claims him. There was no immediate word from the Leafs if they planned to have him report to the Marlies if he clears.