After two mediocre (but not terrible for a rookie, by any means) seasons on the island, Connolly was traded to the Buffalo Sabres along with Taylor Pyatt in exchange for Mike Peca.
Connolly has always shown great potential, but injuries have limited his playing time throughout his career in Buffalo. The story has always been the same; when healthy, Tim Connolly is a beautifully talented playmaker with excellent vision, quick hands, and a knack for making the pretty play. When injured, as often is the case, he is nothing more than a waste of $4.5 million.
Connolly missed just three games in his first four season in the league, but one hit seems to have changed his life forever. During an exhibition game prior to the 2003-04 campaign, Connolly was hit and suffered a brutal concussion, forcing him to miss the entire season. He was able to return after the lockout and registered a career-high 55 points in the 2005-06 season, including several highlight-reel dekes and goals in Game 1 of a Best-of-7 Conference Semi-Final against the Ottawa Senators.
However, that would prove to be his only impact on the series, as he was once again hit and concussed early in Game two. This time, he missed the remainder of the playoffs (which culminated in a Game seven loss to Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals) and the first 80 games of the ’06-07 season.
A slew of fluke injuries have continued to keep Connolly from becoming a consistent offensive power. A fractured vertebrae, a broken rib, a stress fracture, a broken foot in last year’s playoffs, and most recently, a broken-and-reconstructed nose have severely limited Connolly’s playing time.
He played just 48 games in both the ’07-08 and ’08-09 seasons, but did show signs of promise offensively. He scored 7 goals and added 33 assists in 2007-08, then rebounded with 18 goals and 47 points the following year, earning himself a two year, $9 million contract extension.
In the 2009-10 season, Connolly enjoyed his most successful season in the league, establishing new career highs in both assists and points, and falling just one goal short of tying his career high of 18.
He played more than 70 games for the first time since 2002-03, and was starting to win over some of his hardest critics before a foot injury forced him to miss time towards the end of the season, and noticeably hampered his play during the Sabres first round playoff series vs the Boston Bruins.
He finished the season with 17 goals and 65 points, but his disappointing post-season hasn’t helped his case.
The general consensus in Buffalo is that Tim Connolly is a soft, injury-prone forward who doesn’t have the durability to play at a high enough level in the league. Since 2005-06, he has been one of the most productive Sabres… when healthy.
He has spent time quarterbacking the powerplay and has proven to have a deadly wrist shot, though rarely utilized. Because of his fall from favor, it is unlikely that Tim Connolly will be offered a contract to stay in Buffalo after this season, but perhaps the more likely scenario will see him dealt at the trade deadline.
Although he’s once again been bitten by the injury bug, they haven’t been as serious as prior instances, and some team will surely take a chance on him either to add depth at forward, or to give their PowerPlay a boost going into the post-season.
Whatever the case, Connolly has certainly been fun to watch in Buffalo. He’s had his fair (or maybe unfair) share of lows, but the highs include one of the absolute best games in the organization’s history; the Sabres’ 7-6 OT win in Game 1 vs the Ottawa Senators in the 2005-06 Conference Semi Finals — A back and forth affair that truly set the tone for the entire series. It’s a shame that Connolly wasn’t able to reach his full potential in Buffalo, but you have to respect his dedication to come back after so many devastating injuries. You can never question his heart.