Building the Case for Keeping Connolly

Building the Case for Keeping Connolly

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Photo Credit: Abelimages/Getty Images

On July 2, 2011 you could find me in the kitchen preheating an oven. Why? I wanted to make sure that everything was nice and warm for when I threw my head into it because the Leafs signed Tim Connolly. Was this an overreaction? Sure. Connolly may have a high cap hit at $4.5 million a season, but his contract is for only two years.

In year one Connolly did little to prove me wrong. In a season where Connolly would actually avoid the injury bug (missing only 12 games is an achievement for him), Tim would put up his lowest point totals since before the lockout (excluding the season he missed and his 2 game season.) Anyway you cut it 36 points seems bad, especially since this was the player pegged to be the new first line center (unfair expectation alert.)

Connolly’s season might not have been as bad as we thought. First, in praise of his defensive game, Connolly led Leaf forwards in blocked shots, and saw the second most amount of ice time on the penalty kill. While this may not sound impressive given the Leafs penalty kill effectiveness, I stubbornly refuse to put the failure on the forwards, and choose to blame the poorly executed fronting strategy of Ron Wilson & Co. Tim Connolly would end the season with the highest on ice save percentage of Leaf players who saw significant time on the penalty kill, at 89.9% he finished with a better percentage than all three Selke candidates.

I was also surprised by what I saw when I looked more closely at Connolly’s point totals. Connolly’s 31 even strength points were the second highest total he’s had since the lockout. While he had some decent numbers in substantially shortened seasons, his numbers were consistent with where he’s always been. Connolly’s drop off in points almost entirely comes from the powerplay. Before last season’s five point total, his worst tally had been 15. Had he produced that number in conjunction with his 31 even strength points I’m sure Connolly would at least have received a passing grade last season.

It certainly didn’t help that Connolly didn’t see as much ice time on the powerplay last season. He was down below two minutes a game with the Leafs, and of Leafs forwards he was 6th in powerplay icetime. This was a drop from the 2:49 PPTOI Connolly had in the previous season in Buffalo that saw him produce 19 points. While an aging Connolly is not going produce at the same levels as he did in his prime, his numbers were abnormally bad for him and it’s unlikely he’ll sustain this steep drop-off in offensive production.

The above graph illustrates what Connolly has produced and what can be expected of him next season. Presently it takes about 30 minutes of even strength ice time for Connolly to produce an even strength point. This is a big improvement over last season, but slightly worse than Connolly was producing a few years earlier. It should be noted that in both of these seasons Connolly was often relegated to 3rd line duties. Based on the way he has been trending it looks like it may take closer to 31.5 minutes for Tim to produce an even strength point, which really only translates to a point drop off compared to last season.

The powerplay numbers show a much greater anomaly. Connolly was frequently in the 10-12 minute range of ice time before he’d produce a point on the powerplay. Last season that number went through the roof and it took him over 26 minutes of ice time to record a point with the man advantage. Assuming the truth is somewhere in between where Connolly was in Buffalo and his last season in Toronto, it seems that he’s closer to 17 minutes of powerplay time to get a point. Which would have seen him with 3 more points with the same ice time, and if he had his Buffalo PP TOI he could be counted on for 13 powerplay points next season.

This projected production for Connolly is good enough to have him scoring at around the same rate as Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak, and potentially Connolly can still be counted on to fill a second or third line center role and do so in a somewhat reliable fashion. It’s also quite possible that Connolly might be best suited on the wing going forward. Potentially a line of Kulemin, Grabovski, and Connolly could be counted on to play in any situation.

Connolly is low risk with one year remaining on his deal, and he’s the kind of player that holds some value at the trade deadline if the Leafs are in the familiar position of sellers.

The other simple truth is that there are very few players available through free agency that can replace either Connolly’s offense or defensive ability. Internal to the Leafs organization the situation is similar. While Kadri could match Tim’s offense (not likely in his first full season) he won’t be as solid defensively. The same is obviously similar for other prospects, who while they will need space cleared for them in the lineup, should not be the reason for moving Connolly out for pennies on the dollar.

With a team searching for an identity it seems like a poor decision to move out a guy like Connolly who could fit in a number of situations and there are no long term ties to.

Now Some Links…

TOI-Weighted NHL Team Average Ages
NHLCheapshot over at PPP has compiled the average age of each NHL team using Time on Ice data, also broken down by position. The two most interesting takeaways for me are that the Leafs forwards are very much in their prime and that the likely catalyst for the strong offensive totals of the last couple of seasons. The second is that young defense should get better over time and patience is a virtue.

Down Goes Brown with the Sticking Points for each side in the CBA Negotiations
The Komisarek and draft lottery jokes are top notch.

2012 NHL Draft Top 100
The consensus top 100 from NHL Numbers sees Ryan Murray at the 5 spot. If the top four forwards are already taken he’s not a bad Plan B for the Leafs. Also encouraging in these rankings is that Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk (goaltenders) are still available for the Leafs to pick in the second round.

Crossroads
Not a Leafs link, but an interesting post at Oilers Nation by Jason Strudwick giving his thoughts on his former coach getting canned.

Owners Can Blame Themselves
An interesting article on the CBA. It oversimplifies a few of the contentious points, but is a good quick read for people who may not find labour law as interesting as I do.

In this week in Montreal hilarity…
Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette suggests the Canadiens might not consider Yakupov, Grigorenko, or Galchenyuk because Radulov and Kostitsyn broke curfew. Please let Bergevin be as stupid as the Montreal media.

One of the biggest pieces of Maple Leafs History is up for Auction
Bill Barilko’s Stanley Cup ring is up for sale on Classic Auctions. Personally I’d like to see MLSE step up and buy it and give it a proper home at the ACC or HHOF.

World Championships Are Over
Congratulations to Nik Kulemin and Co, and a tip of the hat to Chara for his tribute to Demitra. Skim to the end of the article to see the divisional groupings for the 2014 Olympics.