In the grand scheme of things, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a reasonable gamble by signing Tim Connolly to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this off-season.
It’s true that the price tag is a bit steep, but the term is what makes the deal solid for both sides. Connolly gets more security than the one-year offers you’d expect him to receive elsewhere (and also might benefit from some extra time to get his feet wet in the hyper-scrutinized atmosphere that is Toronto) while the Maple Leafs limit the risk that comes with adding a notoriously injury prone player.
James Mirtle did a nice job of succinctly pointing out the pros and cons of Connolly. Even after throwing out some struggles with injuries in his earlier seasons, the shifty pivot missed 190 games since the lockout. With that risk comes a considerable reward, though; Connolly scored 250 points in the 302 games he managed to play in since the lockout.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Signing Connolly is a substantial risk and while my main question would be about his health, The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons lingered upon character issues that have been raised. Simmons spoke with many who watched Connolly’s career, including the man who drafted him in 1999: Mike Milbury.
When you ask hockey people questions about Connolly the first thing they ask in return is: “Can we go off the record?” They want to tell you the story or at least their version of the story. They just don’t want their names attached to the Maple Leafs’ $9.5 million signing. Among the terms used to describe Connolly are: Soft. Sullen.
Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player. Almost the opposite of what you expect most hockey players to be.
And one more thing: Supremely skilled.
“We thought he would be great for us,” said Milbury, who traded him after two seasons to Buffalo in a deal for Michael Peca after a trade with Boston for Jason Allison fell through. “It just didn’t work out for us the way we thought it would with Tim.”
Connolly’s time with the New York Islanders almost seemed too brief to truly gauge the man or the player, but he spent nine up-and-down years with the Buffalo Sabres. While there’s an impression that Connolly fell out of favor with members of the media and (in some cases) Sabres fans, his former teammate Ryan Miller stuck up for him – and called out some “talking heads” in the process – on Thursday.
“It’s unfortunate the media hasn’t even let him get on the ice before starting with this crap,” Miller said Thursday.
“I think some people in the media [in Buffalo] felt like he owed them explanations beyond what he cared to share, and it just became a little bit of a vendetta. From my perspective, the only thing Tim doesn’t care about is what the talking heads think about him. He cares about hockey fans, he cares about winning and he cares about his teammates.
“In my book, that’s all that matters.”
When it comes to the thoughts of Toronto media types and Maple Leafs fans alike, Connolly’s successes or failures during the next two season will be all that matters.
It’s likely that he’ll line up on the team’s top scoring line with Phil Kessel, another talented player who has his fair share of critics. That combination could go either way. The two talented forwards could mesh beautifully, with Connolly setting up Kessel for a staggering amount of goals. On the other hand, Connolly and/or Kessel might run into another wall of injuries and raise the ire of fans in the process. There’s also the chance that they could experience a little bit of both.
Either way, the Maple Leafs are a tough team to gauge going into the 2011-12 season. If nothing else, they should be a lot more interesting to watch, though.