I’m excited about tonight’s game for a lot of reasons, most of which I will get to later on. This morning I want to talk about the return of Tim Connolly. When it comes to Connolly’s career, so much of the conversation focuses on things other than hockey. His injuries, his extracurricular activities, whether or not he wears a visor. Almost everything we as fans talk about has nothing to do with his play on ice.
The easy answer for this is that he just isn’t on the ice enough. Over the past five seasons, Timmy has missed 249 out of 368 games. That’s an incredible number of missed games, and it’s easy to understand the frustration felt by almost everyone involved with his career. Whenever I get mad about Timmy and his injuries, I only imagine what he feels like; all that potential never getting a chance to shine.
It’s hard for people to get excited about Connolly anymore, but when healthy he is one of the best players on this team. I’ve talked about it before, but the fact of the matter is that when Connolly’s on the active roster he produces. That can’t be said about some other question marks on this team, and for that I give Connolly the benefit of the doubt at times.
Despite all the jokes and all the frustration we’ve expressed over the last few seasons, the fact of the matter is that Tim Connolly is still one of my favorite hockey players. The natural ability he has is something I will always envy, and the way he plays the game is something I still respect about him. Lindy brought up an interesting point when talking about Connolly’s game earlier in the week.
“He doesn’t play like he’s been hurt. I think you’ve got to give him credit for that,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “He doesn’t go out and play a soft game. If he went out and played a soft game, he would have totally avoided the play against the St. Louis player. But he didn’t. He’s the type of guy that wants to take the puck into traffic and wants to draw people to him and he wants to use that ability to open people up.
“That puts him sometimes in jeopardy of suffering some tough hits.”
I think Ruff has a really good take on not only what makes Connolly so good, but also explains a lot of what happens to his body. Despite all of the injuries and risk, he works the boards hard and isn’t afraid to take a hit to make plays. It’s a high risk asset, but an asset that’s essential to his game. I don’t think Connolly would be as valuable to a hockey team if he didn’t take those hits and work that hard, yet at the same time it’s hard to justify his utility when he’s on the shelf so often.
It’s an interesting little catch-22, but one that he appears to be completely aware of. Here’s what he said in that same article:
“The only thing I can control is going out there, playing the game and playing to the best of my ability,” Connolly said. “We have to go out there and win hockey games and concentrate on getting this team to the playoffs.”
I’m going to be honest, I love the hell out of that quote. I really do think that Connolly does everything he can to get back on the ice, and it’s obvious that he wants to be out there. If he wanted to sit in the press box and collect that salary he wouldn’t have played with broken ribs, and if he didn’t love the game he would just hang it up when the risk gets too great. Something tells me that’s not how Tim Connolly thinks, and no matter who signs him this summer he’s going to keep playing the same was he always has.
It’s silly and certainly a bit naive, but every time Tim Connolly comes back from an injury I get a little excited. Maybe this is it, maybe that was the last big injury and he’s going to pull it together. We all know he’s valuable on the power play, and once he makes that first defenseman miss you’ll remember exactly why he signed that contract way back when. If he finishes out the year and produces, then maybe, just maybe, someone will want him on their team. Maybe even here. Turn things around. Who knows, right?
I really do know better. The cynical hockey fan in me says he plays a half dozen games and gets caught with his head down. Or slips off a bar stool. Or falls down a well. Something is bound to happen, and that’s not often the slogan of an optimist. Still, the hope is there, and I’d like to think I’m not the only one thinking like that today. It’s not a whole lot of faith, but it’s enough for me to appreciate him when he hits the ice.
Oh Tim Connolly, I find it quite hard to quit you.