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Please, Not Another Connolly

December 12, 2013 - Matt Spielman
Ted Nolan said earlier Thursday that Cody Hodgson will not play against the Ottawa Senators because he “took a little bit of banging last game,” and suffered a lower-body injury.

If Buffalo fans feel like this is déjà vu watching No. 19 in a Sabres jersey, they may be right.

The Sabres previous No. 19, Tim Connolly, took fans on a roller coaster ride during his eight seasons with the club, showing flashes of brilliance at times, while also suffering season-ending injuries and displaying lackadaisical play at other times.

When the Sabres traded their captain Michael Peca, who was steadfast in a holdout at the time, for Connolly and Taylor Pyatt in June 2001, it seemed like the team was getting pretty good value for a player who may never agree to suit up for the franchise again.

Connolly impressed with 45 points as a 20-year-old, but in the 2002-03 season, the Syracuse native regressed, totaling just 25 points and posting a minus-28 on the season. Connolly rebounded with a 55-point season out of the lockout and the Sabres rewarded him with a three-year $8.7 million contract. Connolly played just two games the following year and registered just 40 and 47 points, respectively, in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. Buffalo attempted to trade Connolly, 27 years old at the time, but instead re-signed him to a two-year $9 million contract for him to be what they thought was their No. 1 center. It never really turned out that way and in the summer of 2011, Connolly signed another two-year contract, this time for $9.5 million with Toronto, where he was a huge disappointment.

Now fast-forward to February 2012. The Sabres possessed a high draft pick in Zack Kassian with a checkered past in his junior hockey days, who was still just 21 years old. Kassian played just 38 games in the 2009-10 Ontario Hockey League season because of a 20-game suspension, but in 2010-11 the rugged winger tallied 77 points in 56 games, proving his status as a talented top prospect.

In Vancouver, the Canucks had a talented prospect or their own, who was reportedly butting heads with management over ice time. Darcy Regier, the Sabres general manager at the time, saw his chance to acquire a young No. 1 center the club sorely needed and made the Kassian-Hodgson trade. It seems attitude problems for both players have followed them for their entire careers. Much like Connolly, Hodgson has showed stretches of brilliance. But at other times, his defensive positioning and desire have been questioned. This summer, as one of his last transactions with the club, Regier signed Hodgson, a restricted free agent at the time, to a six-year $25.5 million extension. It’s hard to fault any general manager for extending a center reaching the prime of his career, but just a few months into the contract, it looks like Regier may have overplayed his hand.

With a large chunk of money and time invested in Hodgson for years to come, Sabres fans have to hope that he is more the plus side of Tim Connolly and not the down side. If Pat LaFontaine, a new general manager and Ted Nolan -- or whoever the next head coach is -- can get through to Hodgson, he can still turn into the No. 1 center the Sabres hoped they were getting with Tim Connolly, but never really saw.


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Cody Hodgson AP photo