Tim Connolly was always under heavy pressure here in Buffalo, be it from the fans who expected more from him and his big contract, the media that constantly clubbed his concussed conscience with “overpaid, underperforming” wallops, or be it from having to constantly prove to himself and everyone else that he wouldn’t break coming off his latest injury.
Sadly, but fittingly, his long tenure in Buffalo ended with all three. He exited the playoffs, injured, after only registering 2 helpers in 6 games. He went without a goal in the playoffs since the 2005-2006 season. The media that criticized him for this was smugly rewarded. While teammate Ryan Miller was left behind in Buffalo to staunchly defend Connolly from all the criticism - calling at least the media part of it a “vendetta,” Tim slipped out of town.
But is the pressure over for him now? Not a chance. Now in Toronto, one of the biggest pressure-cookers in the league, he’s really going to be surrounded by strident voices and public opinion for every mistake he makes, and each injury he takes.
At least his steady diet of smack from the fans and media in Buffalo gave him a little crash course for it.
For Connolly, the pressure in a Leafs uniform – one that he still has yet to wear in a game – is already on, and it’s on big time. That article I just sourced (from the Globe and Mail) above citing Miller’s defense of Connolly lasted all but two short paragraphs before it started listing the Toronto Sun’s key words to describe Connolly’s play:
The latest criticism of Connolly, the NHL club’s only major free-agent signing this year, was published in the Toronto Sun this week, suggesting his reputation amongst “hockey people” consists of being “difficult,” a “loner,” a “spoiled brat” and “not a team player.”
Reputation aside, here’s a run-down on what Tim is expected to accomplish in his new home up the Queen Elizabeth Way. A fresh look, from Fox Sports:
Connolly is most likely the next first-line center under the microscope in Toronto, courtesy of a two-year, $9.5 million contract he signed in July. His game will be dissected like his body has been examined. Which, considering how often virtually every inch of his 6-foot-1 frame has been broken, torn or smashed, is a lot.
“I’m just looking forward to my time in Toronto, getting ready for that,” he said about shaking his injury jinx. “That’s what I’m thinking about now. I think the fan support there, it’s just a hockey town. I think it will be just an exciting experience for me.”
For a player whose game is so flashy, Connolly hopes to color Toronto in more subtle hues like penalty killing and fundamentals.
A brief report from the Sporting News also (and mainly) cites that injury history:
Tim Connolly, signed to center the team’s first line in the offseason, says he’s ready to face the challenge of playing in Toronto — and hopes to stay healthy, something that hasn’t been easy for him during his eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, in the process.“I’m just looking forward to my time in Toronto, getting ready for that,” Connolly, 30, and known for his skilled play, told NHL.com. “That’s what I’m thinking about now. I think the fan support there, it’s just a hockey town. I think it will be just an exciting experience for me.”
Last season, Connolly had 42 points in 68 games; two seasons ago, he put up 17 goals and 65 points in 73 contests.
In the three seasons that came before that, though, Connolly played 98 games total and developed his injury-prone reputation. Ultimately, that played a role in his exit from Buffalo; the team opted not to re-sign him.
Even the caption under the photo the Sporting News used read “Tim Connolly has been relatively healthy for two seasons.” There is relatively no escape from this history in these articles.
From the Toronto Sun, a newer article noted that some other responsibilities were now on Tim’s shoulders with the Leafs:
Tim Connolly knows he will have to take on a more veteran role this season. Connolly is 30 years old, a more experienced player on the young Leafs squad. “I can bring my experience” he said in an interview. It appears he has changed his attitude since being much criticized by the Buffalo media. He will still need to improve his faceoffs, which hovered at 48% last season.
Once more from the Toronto Sun:
The Maple Leafs signed Tim Connolly and acquired John-Michael Liles this summer for a number of reasons, and there’s the hope that each will provide some punch to the Toronto power play.
In Connolly and Liles, the Leafs have the potential to improve when they’re up a man or two. But the players have to make it happen.
Here’s a list of what Toronto is concerned about so far:
- His age
- Making the powerplay work
- Bolstering the penalty kill
- Providing veteran leadership
- Staying healthy
Did I miss anything? Oh yea, the whoe “spoiled brat/not a team player” thing.
This upcoming season is a huge one for Connolly, and I think most fans in WNY wish him well (except, of course, during Sabres/Leafs match-ups).
Still, if the Toronto media has told him anything already, it’s that he better provide a boost to every area of the Leafs organization, or he’ll have a lot of microphones to answer questions into.
Good luck, Timmy.