Help pick the 2015-16 Tim Connolly Award Winner

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When Tim Connolly was drafted by the Islanders 5th overall in 1999 he was a highly touted prospect that had the talent to be selected even higher up the draft board if it wasn’t for a broken leg that shortened his OHL season. Connolly was on pace for over 50 goals and 100 points before the leg injury. He was considered the best stick handler in the draft and there were comparisons made to NHL HOFer Steve Yzerman. Islanders GM Mike Milbury called the injury a blessing as it dropped Connolly’s draft stock enough to allow the Islanders a chance to draft him. In hindsight, Sabres fans today would describe that injury as foreshadowing.

When the Sabres acquired Connolly on draft day in 2001, he had only missed 1 game in his first two seasons in the NHL combined, while averaging 38 points a season. The 34 points he totaled in his rookie season would out produce what fellow top 10 picks Patrik Stefan, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, and Patrick Marleau totaled during their rookie seasons. Connolly would have similar success the following 2 seasons with the Sabres playing 162 out of 164 games and averaging 35 points on some bad Sabres teams.

During the preseason in 2003 Connolly suffered his first concussion, this head injury would cost him his entire 03-04 season. Connolly came back in 05-06 with his best season to date. Producing career highs in goals, assists, and points. He was even on fire in the playoffs registering 4 goals and 7 assists in the first 7 games. Then in game 2 in the second round versus Ottawa disaster struck again, at the hands of Chris Neil Connolly suffered another concussion. This one would cost him the rest of the ’06 playoffs and all but 2 games of the 06-07 regular season.

Missing games due to injury became the norm for Tim Connolly. No matter the PPG production, or the versatility, or the many things Connolly brought to the Sabres, the only things that come to mind when Connolly’s name is brought up are the injuries and how much the fans of Buffalo grew tired and even hated Tim Connolly during his time here.

The hate directed at Connolly was pretty illogical at times, the team was better with him in the lineup than without him and he provided a lot of value in terms of offensive production and defensive prowess. This is why, after discussion of players that were receiving hate they didn’t really deserve, we proposed the idea of the Tim Connolly Award to be given to a player at the end of the season "who has garnered the most hate from Sabres fans despite anything positive they may have done."

Previous Winners of this award are

  • 2010-11 was obviously Tim Connolly
  • 2011-12 was awarded to Derek Roy who had 44 points in 80 games coming back from a really bad leg injury the previous season.
  • 2012-13 was awarded to Drew Stafford. It was Stafford's worst season and looked snake bitten for the entire year. He finished with 18 points in 46 games

The last 2 years there wasn’t much positives to talk about with anybody on the Sabres and the team was historically terrible. The award was pretty much given to the player everyone hated the most with less discussion on the positives those players brought to the team or game of hockey.

  • 2013-14 : Ville Leino who produced 0 goals and only 15 points in 57 games. He was injured, looked disinterested, and was universally hated by most fans of the team.
  • 2014-15: Cody Hodgson won the award after falling off a cliff producing career lows of 6 goals, 7 assists, 13 points in 78 games; after being the Sabres leading scorer in 2013-14.

With the upswing of the rebuild in full force, there is much more good things to talk about in 2015-16 and this brings the Tim Connolly Award back to the spirit of why it was created in the first place. Now it’s time to vote for the Buffalo Sabre who has garnered the most hate from Sabres fans despite anything positive they may have done.

And the Nominees for the 2015-16 Tim Connolly Award are:

Evander Kane - 20 goals, 15 Assists, 35 Points
Reasons for hate: Kane was widely criticized because of his shot selection often taking shots from low percentage areas on the ice that can artificially inflate Corsi metrics and limit possession for the Sabres. Kane missed 16 games due to injury after fans were already leery of Kane’s durability. Kane was suspended 1 game for missing practice after going to the NBA all-star game. Kane was also the center of a sexual assault investigation and even though he wasn’t charged it still brought unnecessary negative attention to himself and the team.
The Positives: Kane was 1 of 4 Buffalo Sabres to score 20 goals this season, and Kane had one of his better offensive years since he scored 30 goals in 2011-12. Kane was a monster on the forecheck and brought a physical energy to the team while being a positive Corsi player at EV and All situations.

Robin Lehner – 2.47 GAA, .924 S%, 21 games 5w-9l-5otl
Reasons for hate: Sabres fans were in an unroar about Lehner from the minute they acquired him on draft day. Most felt the price of a first round pick was much to high for an unproven goalie prospect that hadn’t played all that great in recent years and was coming off of a concussion. The hatred continued through the preseason and after every goal allowed fans of the franchise were quick to point fingers at the unwarranted cost to acquire and shaky performance. Lehner wouldn’t do anything to silence the hate until late in the season as he was injured in the 2nd period of the first game of the season. Lehner would reinjury his ankle in March and only played 21 games in his first season in Blue and Gold.
The Positives: Simply put, Lehner is a crazy person. He isn’t afraid of physical confrontation and will stick up for himself and his teammates. The Crazy eyed stares from Lehner were some of the more fun highlights of the year. Before reinjuring his ankle late in the year, Lehner was starting to turn fans into thinking he might be worth the price the Sabres paid to acquire him, or at least it wasn’t a total overpayment. Lehner’s 92.3% Adjusted 5 on 5 S% is just below the Frederik Andersen, Martin Jones, and Tukka Rask. Lehner’s record wasn’t great this season but his goal support was the worst in the NHL, the Sabres only scored 1.84 GF60 with Lehner in net.

Brian Gionta – 12 goals, 21 assists, 33 points
Reasons for hate: Age has certainly caught up with Gionta. He just hasn’t had the jump or finish he once had as a player that once scored 48 goals in a season for the Devils. Gionta was often criticized for being a step slower or not being able to capitalize on scoring chances especially in the early parts of the season. At 37 years old, Gionta’s best years are definitely behind him and there’s still one more year at $4.25m left on his contract.
The Positives: Well, while I was writing this Gionta just scored the game winner in overtime of the season finale. Gionta was a part of the Sabres best 3rd line combination during the year when he was aligned with Marcus Foligno and Johan Larrson. Gionta brought an older leadership voice to the Sabres young locker room which was highlighted during his Beyond Blue & Gold episode. Gionta won the Sabres skill competition tournament. He might not be the player he once was but Gionta is still a useful roleplayer on a rebuilding team.

Zach Bogosian – 7 goals, 17 assists, 24 points
Reasons to hate: Bogo missed 18 games this season due to injury which has been a theme for most of his career as he has been labeled as injury prone. Bogo’s production will continue to be compared to Tyler Myers, and as physical as Bogosian is he isn’t really the offensive player Myers was.
The Positives: Bogosian had his best offensive year since 2011-12. He also played in the most games he’s played in a season since then as well. Bogo was on fire during the last couple months of the season tallying 15 points in his final 22 games. Bogo brought a physical presence to the Sabres blueline and had no qualms about sticking up for a teammate after a big or questionable hit. Bogo laughing and smiling with his crazy hair and bushy beard while challenging the Coyotes team at the end of the game was the Crazy Eyed Lehner before ther was a crazy eyed Lehner.

Johan Larsson – 10 goals, 7 assists, 17 points
Reasons to hate: Larsson was the first line center at the end of 2014-15 and he was very productive in this role during the last month or so of the season. The beginning of this season wasn’t kind to JFL. He didn’t score his first goal of the season until his 28th game and at that point had had only registered 3 total points. Larsson was also tasked to stop McDavid and within seconds of the start of the first Connor vs Jack game, McDavid scored and started further discussion of why wasn't Jack out there and is Larsson the right person to anchor the Shutdown line.
The Positives: The start of Larsson season may have been anemic, but he finished very strong. Larsson adapted well to his role as the 3rd line center between Gionta and Foligno.

The nominees have been limited to 5 players this season. Players nominated have been chosen because of discussion of criticism and or hatred by Sabres fans, production during the season, and tangible or intangible positives the player brought to the team during the 2015-16 season. Players without positives or limited positives were left off of the ballot this year.

This is a FanPost written by a member of the community. It does not necessarily express the views or opinions of Die By The Blade.