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Connolly Silences Critics
January 28, 2010 - Matt Spielman
You hear that? ... That's the sound of crickets in the Tim Connolly-bashing corner of cyber space.
A little less than a year ago at this time, fans were calling for Darcy Regier to be fired when he signed the oft-injured center to a two-year contract extension on trade-deadline day. Regier knew of Connolly's injury history, but he also knew of his special talent. Ownership and management pointed to Connolly's first four seasons in the NHL when he played 325 of a possible 328 games with the Islanders and Sabres and looked past his next three seasons when he only played 161 of a possible 328 games.
Throughout his entire tenure with the team, management has been saying that Connolly is a top-line center with superstar talent -- that is why they traded Michael Peca for him in 2001. Fans have disagreed with management's assessment since the beginning. There is no denying the Syracuse native was injury-prone for the middle few years of his career, but that could be attributed more to the fans beating on him than his on-ice play.
Connolly carried the Sabres during his recent 16-game point streak helping the team to an 8-0-3 record in their last 11 home games and, along with Ryan Miller, salvaging the team six points on a treacherous seven-game road trip.
The sure-handed centerman has done what nobody else has been able to for the last three years, he got Jochen Hecht playing well again. The German Olympian had seven goals and five assists during Connolly's 16-game run and may have his linemate to thank for making his country's roster after not being on the initial list for Vancouver.
The fact is this: if Tim Connolly hit the open market this past offseason, 29 other teams would have jumped at the chance to offer him $9 million over the next two seasons, and somebody probably would have offered him much more money for many more years.
With Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, et al. not scoring on a consistent basis, the Connolly-Hecht-Pominville line has carried the offense and become the No. 1 line. With the defensive style Lindy Ruff has employed proving successful, the Sabres defensive core has become its strength despite so many dollars tied up in top-six forwards.
As long as Ryan Miller stays strong following a tough Olympic break, the Sabres have just as good of a chance as anybody to come out of the Eastern Conference and make an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals.
Once there, as their performances out west in the past two weeks showed, they might not be as successful.
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Buffalo Sabres' Tim Connolly is greeted by teammates after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks in the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 in San Jose, Calif. AP photo