Tim Connolly: Will He Be The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Savior or Dud?
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke made a number of changes over the summer, signing the likes of Philippe Dupuis Via Free agency and trading for John-Michael Liles, Matthew Lombardi (who is yet to set a date for return after an early season concussion in 2010-11) and Cody Franson.
Liles and Franson look to be important pieces to solidifying the Maple Leafs defense, while the Buds will be happy with whatever Lombardi and Dupuis can contribute.
Burke also extended the contract of goaltender James Reimer, while re-signing forwards Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak, as well as defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Matt Lashoff, with the signing of defensive stalwart Luke Schenn expected any day now.
While the impending Schenn signing will be huge for the Blue and White, the most important signing of the off-season looks to be free agent centre Tim Connolly who will be asked to step into the first line centre position and contribute major minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill—two areas the Maple Leafs need a huge boost.
In Connolly, the Maple Leafs get a player with a history of injuries ranging from groin injuries, a broken rib, back injuries, nasal surgery, hip injuries and a late season head injury in 2011.
At first glance, it is easy to brand Connolly as fragile. Truth be told, Connolly is more of a victim of bad breaks and freakish injuries rather than anything long-term or career threatening.
Nonetheless, Connolly has not played a full 82-game season since 2001-02, accumulating a total of 627 career games over parts of 11 seasons, including the 2003-04 season in which Connolly sat out the entire season due to injury.
Over the past four seasons Connolly has played a total of 68 (2010-11), 73 (2009-10), 48 (2008-09), and 48 games (2007-08). Clearly, history suggests Connolly will likely sit out at least a dozen games this season, limiting his scoring totals and contributing to the Maple Leafs struggle to make the playoffs.
On the surface, many fans of the Blue and White see the Connolly signing as nothing more than a desperation move by Brian Burke after he came up short in the Brad Richards sweepstakes—which some say Burke was never really a major player anyways.
Of course, Burke is saying all the right things about Connolly, looking only at the upside that Connolly brings with him (skill, speed, ability to anchor the special teams, experience) while ignoring the injuries and inability meet or exceed the expectations that accompanied Connolly early on in his career.
Two years ago Connolly scored a career-high 65 points through 73 games playing as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. That’s a total of one lousy 60-plus point season for a player drafted fifth overall (1999 to the New York Islanders) with more than ten years of NHL experience—is that really enough?
Connolly, who is known as more of a play maker than goal scorer, followed that up with a less than stellar playoff which saw him register just one assist in six games.
Truth be told, outside of 2005-06 where Connolly scored five goals and 11 points through eight playoff games, Connolly has been very average come playoff time, notching just 23 points through 36 career playoff games.
A historically injured, career under achiever and underwhelming playoff performer—this is the player that Burke has entrusted to lead his team to the promised land? Really?
Connolly is said to be working out like never before. It appears as if Connolly’s leaving Buffalo has been both a wake up call and an opportunity for a clean slate, a new beginning, a final chance to prove the critics wrong.
Needless to say, until Connolly has a full season behind him it will be difficult to say whether or not his off-season work has paid off, that said, one things for sure— Burke and Company are banking on Connolly doing big things in a Maple Leaf uniform— whether that happens or not is yet to be seen.
Of course, a lot of Connolly’s success will be linked to his lines mates. Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel are expected to flank Connolly on the left and right sides, both of whom have their own injury woes and/or failed expectations to carry around.
Lupul’s health and Kessel’s work ethic will continue be a concern for many Leaf fans. Both players have the talent to score 30 goals and notch 75 points, both players are still question marks heading into 2011-12. In fact, the trio of Connolly, Kessel and Lupul represents one of the NHL’s biggest question mark’s heading into the 2011-12 season. I mean, what can we expect from this group? What are they really capable of? And, will they even gel?
When the 2010-11 season started there were plenty of reports on the Internet that suggested the trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur (a trio I nicknamed “the misfits”) looked to be one of the worst second units in the NHL.
Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur turned out to be one of the most dominant second (sometimes first) units in the NHL, scoring a total of 80 goals and 177 points—even with trade rumors swirling around all three players at different times in the season.
Can Connolly, Lupul and Kessel be this seasons surprise line?
Brian Burke certainly hopes so, and so do the members of the Leaf Nation. Connolly will likely play a huge role in this trio’s success or lack-thereof…whether they can accomplish what Grabovski and Company did last season remains to be seen…
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Until next time,