(Quick disclosure: readers of my previous blog, “buffalo74,” will be already familiar with most of this content – but it bears repeating.)
Tim Connolly’s days as a Sabre are done.
It’s finally time to analyze the trade that first brought Tim to Buffalo – and you’ll be surprised who the “winner” of this old trade turned out to be.
In 1999, Mike Peca captained the Sabres all the way to Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. Soon after, he would sit out the 2000-01 season in a contract dispute, and was finally traded to the New York Islanders for Connolly and Taylor Pyatt.
Connolly would score 94 goals and 226 assists (320 points) in 464 games with the Sabres. Injuries would define his career in Buffalo, as the only full season that he ever played with the team was his 1st.
As a bonus, Pyatt would spend 4 years in Buffalo, netting 38 goals and 42 assists (80 points) in 230 games. Pyatt currently plays for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Peca went on to score 49 goals and 93 assists (142 points) over 3 seasons on the Island before moving on to Toronto and Columbus. While his leadership was never in question, he also failed to ever break the double digit mark in goals after the NHL emerged from the lockout in 2005.
Perhaps the most important parallel between Connolly and Peca was their unrelenting injuries – neither player ever had a chance to truly impact their teams.
Peca was able to be a part of the Cinderella run to the Cup Finals with the Oilers in ’06, but he only managed 6 goals and 5 assists, and his Oilers succumbed to the Hurricanes in 7 games.
Meanwhile, Connolly was an integral part of that same 2005-06 playoff run for the Sabres, netting 11 points in 8 games – including a goal with 11 seconds left in Game One of the 2nd Round against Ottawa (Drury netted the winner). Tim was then lost to injury.
Peca would never regain the form that saw him win the Selke trophy with Buffalo, as the NHL’s best defensive forward. He had a nice run in ’06, but as in ’99, it was all for naught.
Connolly emerged as a bull-force in the 2006 playoffs, before being crushed with injury. His woeful injury record would draw a monumental amount of derision from Sabres fans, who never gave up in their strident quest to run him out of town on his crutches.
Darcy Regier was in position after the ’99 Finals to make another solid run at the Stanley Cup, but the loss of Peca to the contract dispute was devastating, as the team floundered and barely made the playoffs the next season. Most condemning of the dispute and the subsequent trade was the effect it had on all-time franchise netminder Dominik Hasek, who was then convinced that the Sabres would never do what it took to put a team on the ice built to win. Hasek demanded a trade, and got his wish. Regier has carried the stigma as a stubborn sprend-thrift all the way to today, where he has finally had a chance to show what he can do with the largesse of Terry Pegula’s unlimited spending money.
Mike Milbury brought Peca to the Island to infuse the team with grit and leadership – and was rewarded with a playoff berth in the three years Peca was with the team – and three straight 4-1 first round exits. Peca would net only one goal and one assist in those three playoff years. Mike Milbury has gone on into the broadcasting field, after a series of questionable management decisions.
If anything, this drawn-out drama brought nothing but suffering for the players, management, and teams involved.
So now, as the trade and the subsequent elongated “Peca Era” comes to a close in Buffalo, who exactly was the winner of this mess of a trade?
The “Pecadebacle” might have driven Hasek out of town as a maddened, frustrated maniac, but he would go on to win the Stanley Cup with Detroit – in fashion:
During his first season with Detroit, Hasek posted a career high 41 wins with just 15 losses, helping the Wings earn the President’s Trophy with the league’s best record. During the conference finals against Colorado, he became the first goalie to be awarded an assist on an overtime game-winning goal in the post-season. Hasek also set a record for most shutouts in a post-season with six, broken the year after by Martin Brodeur with seven. His name was finally emblazoned on the Stanley Cup.
There’s always next year.