What To Expect: Tim Connolly

The acquisition of Tim Connolly to the Toronto Maple Leafs' top-six unit will, on the surface, add depth to the team's forward ranks. But the hopes of playoff hockey in Toronto could well rest on the shoulders of the injury-prone centerman next season.

Not because Connolly is capable of vaulting the Leafs to new heights single-handedly---because he cannot---but his role as a stop-gap to centers Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne will play a pivotal role in the Leafs' short-term success with Phil Kessel as its offensive leader.

It's no secret that Tyler Bozak failed in his prolonged audition as a number-one centerman. Such an expectation was foolish from the onset but sadly neccessary due to the futility of the Leafs' management in the past. To put it simply, general manager Brian Burke had little to work with and instead of developing his NCAA free agent acquisition on the third line, which would have been appropriate to his skill-set, Bozak was lauched into the fire as Kessel's centerman and was expected to survive. Fast-forward a year and here we are, Bozak has moved down the depth chart and Connolly is the Leafs' new number-one center---or at least a new project for Kessel.

Connolly, 30, is renowned for his puck handling abilities and even provides a two-way game---averaged 1:43 shorthanded ice-time last season. Unfortunately, he is also known for injuries post-lockout. His past two seasons have been his most durable, playing 73 and 68 games respectively. His injury concerns aside, Connolly has amassed 250 points in 302 games since the lockout, and it should be noted last season was his least productive with 42 points in 68 games. On the surface it may seem as though Connolly had an off-year, but that's not the case. Connolly only averaged 16:54 of ice-time as the Sabres' third-line center last season, as opposed to 18:37 TOI/G in the 2009-10 season.

Moreover, Connolly averaged 3:43 of powerplay ice-time per game in the 2009-10 season, but only played an average of 2:49 on the powerplay last season. The difference? Connolly scored an impressive 27 powerplay points, which led the Sabres, with increased ice-time on the man-advantage, but regressed to only 19 powerplay points when his ice-time decreased. The moral of the story? Connolly, despite his defensive acumen, is better suited in a top-six role as a powerplay specialist. Considering the Leafs lack a) a centerman for Kessel, and b) efficiency on the powerplay, Connolly may well thrive with the Leafs considering he'll be getting ample ice-time. Consider that Mikhail Grabovski averaged the most powerplay ice-time among Leafs centers last season with 3:08 PP TOI/G and scored 15 powerplay points. Connolly should average well over that amount with the first powerplay unit and be given every opportunity to produce.

The obvious concern, as previously mentioned, is Connolly's health. It's near impossible to predict whether Connolly can play a full season, or at least in the vicinity of 75 games, but rest assured he'll produce near a point-per-game clip whether his injuries are behind him or not. For the sake of an offensive projection, let's assume he does play 82 games next season. Quote me for a 70-point season from Connolly as the Leafs' number-one center.

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4 Comments

Patrick Storto's picture

Tim Connolly should improve the Leafs offense for as long as he stays healthy. The pressure is going to be on Phil Kessel this year because this is as close he's going to get to playing with a guy like Marc Savard for a little while, and I will argue that Connolly is a poor man's Savard.

As for him vaulting us into the playoffs, the Leafs playoff chances this year are going to depend on Reimer. If Reimer plays like he did last season, the Leafs are a playoff team no doubt in my mind. Now before you all of you non-Leaf fans start hacking away at your keyboard in response to that statement, understand that I don't think Reimer can repeat what he did last season, at least not this year. Rookie goaltenders tend to go through a slump after breakout rookie performances. We saw it with Carey Price, who it took two years to get back to his numbers from his rookie year. Steve Mason is still no where near what he did in his rookie season. Tuukka Rask dropped off quite a bit too. So in all likeliness, Reimer will not be able to do what he did last season for another couple of years.

Phil T's picture

If they can get rid of turnover-machine Komisarek, the Leafs defense looks pretty good with the addition of Franson. I wouldn't count on Connolly breaking the 60pt plateau, but he's definitely an upgrade at center... while he's "healthy".

George Prax's picture

Connolly's no first line center, but he's pretty good, again, when healthy. That said, I don't think he'll do any better in Toronto than he did in Buffalo because there's no indication that the Leafs have much that's all much better for him on the wings than what he had in Buffalo, unless he can have ridiculous chemistry with Kessel. IMO the plateau is 60 points, and if he can play some defense too, there's nothing wrong with that.

But it can't be stressed enough that all of this is of course contingent on him staying healthy.

Owen Durkin's picture

Ron, another solid piece. I really enjoy your work; both the writing style and the content. Good stuff!