One of the biggest story lines of this Sabres season will be on the front end. Three Sabres, all with similar situations, contracts, and expectations, will be free agents come July 1st.
With a new crop of players on the rise in Portland and patience running out, it appears these three (Tim Connolly, Maxim Afinogenov, and Ales Kotalik) will be fighting eachother for a new contract with the team. We will look at each player’s chances for success over the next few days.
First up: Tim Connolly.
Reasons Tim Connolly will make “The Leap”:
– I mean, he has to have it in him sometime, right? Timmy has shown flashes of downright dominance at some points of his career. He has a fantastic set of hands and is capable of “quarterbacking” the Power Play, something few players have the ability to do with success. The skill set has always been there, and he is confident in his abilities.
– Looking at his stats paints an interesting picture. Last season his points per game was just below his career best back in 05-06. That season featured his coming out party in the playoffs, with 11 points in eight games before, well, we’ll get to that later.
– He’s only 27, and one could argue that last season was his best overall year. In 48 games he had 30 assists, used his playmaking ability to support his teammates, and was a +4 on a team full of negative numbers.
– He needs it more than any other player. Out of the three, Afinogenov will catch on with any team that needs someone with speed. If Max went to Detroit and scored 65 points on their third line, no one would blink an eye. Ales can be used anywhere with his big shot. Tim Connolly has a lot of things going against him, and his days as an 18-year-old prospect are over. If he doesn’t catch on this there’s no way he sees a big new contract from anyone, and very unlikely he sees a deal anywhere near the $3.5 million he will make this year.
For Connolly, 2008-09 is an all or nothing year. Make or break for his spot on this team, and make or break for his career.
Reasons Timmy won’t make “The Leap”
– Injuries. We all know that’s why Tim’s stats are so shaky. When he is healthy, he is an asset to the team. He makes things happen and scares the hell out of defenses. I’ve seen Timmy make some of the most creative moves in hockey, but when he’s in the press box those moves don’t show. According to some he worked out a lot during the summer and is in the best shape of his career. If he stays in the lineup, he’s golden.
– He isn’t the most… focused of hockey players. We’ve all heard the stories, and we’ve all gotten cell phone pictures of Timmy seducing underage high school girls on Chippewa. Wait, just me? Okay, never mind then.
Some people don’t think a player’s personal life affects their game. I happen to think it does. However, if the stories of him working out hard over the summer are true, I don’t care about any of the other stories. As long as he’s not doing coke off a stripper’s dead corpse, Timmy’s fine with me. Just remember man, no means no.
– The pressure may be too much. If anyone knows how important this season is it is Tim Connolly. Perhaps all the injuries have gotten into his shiny pale head. Even with a full slate of games under his belt, we may see the budding prospect we’ve nurtured for so long turn into a genuine head case.
Thoughts about Timmy? What do you think about his chances of having a big season? How important is his production with regards to the big picture this year?