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.
(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.
In 2000-01, Peca, indeed, was in a pickle. It was a jarring dispute. The whole situation filled fans with piss and vinegar. Ok, I'm done.
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.
Someday they'll award our efforts in making these ridiculous things.
Until said captioned efforts do go rewarded, we’ll make our own summer trophies. Get your voter registration cards ready, sports fans.
Today launches the inaugural Summer Awards Ball here at Buffalo Sabres Nation – and you’re all invited. So, get into your “Tux and Pucks'” best and prepare to think hard: it’ll be up to all of you to decide who gets these things.
Winners will receive a beautifully preserved sample of Sabres’ Blue and Red cotton candy (now retired)! That’s right – the old colors, before Terry Pegula and Ted Black opened up the “Sabres Suggestion Box” and made so many millions of improvements to the overall Sabres experience that they actually changed the color of the cotton candy from blue and red to blue and yellow.
Gotta’ love those guys.
It may have congealed, a little.
Without further ado, our first award up for your egregious contemplation and debate is “The Sully.” This award goes to the member/player in the Sabres organization most enthusiastically loathed by a certain member of the Buffalo News (who just may just bear a name somewhat similar to the actual namesake of this award – the other destroyer in Buffalo – which is docked at the waterfront). I know, right? It’s just a total coincidence.
Here are your nominees for this year’s Sully (in no particular order):
- Tim Connolly. Connolly may have never have lived up to his contract extension, but there are no worries as to if he ever knew about it.
- Terry Pegula. It didn’t take long for Pegula to get raked over the coals in this one newspaper town – during an on air rant at WGR55, our certain news writer spoke so vehemently about the new ownership’s decisions that Schopp and the Bulldog were actually rendered speechless for ten seconds. (Click on the 2/28 “Part 1” feed – the 12:13 mark starts off the tirade that leads to the dead silence at 13:02.)
- Ryan Miller. Nothing like cornering an angry netminder in the locker room after a tough night – after he walks away from you. Nope, there is no escape from the wrath of the “Sabres’ Critic,” not even for the team’s all-world goaltender. Heck, there’s always time for name-calling and f-bomb dropping, even if it takes place in front of a bunch of little kids touring the facilities – it’s about staying objective, folks!
Those are your Sullied Heroes, up for your vote. Think, debate, comment, and click!
Thanks for participating!