Tim Connolly, Special Teams Ace

Jonathan Willis
September 28 2011 04:12PM

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ special teams the last few seasons have not been very good. The power play has, at best, managed to be an average unit, while the penalty kill is consistently one of the worst in the NHL. The addition of Tim Connolly should help in both areas.

On The Penalty-Kill

One of the items that hasn’t been highlighted as much as it probably deserves is Tim Connolly’s work on the penalty-kill. The perception of Connolly in some quarters as a soft, injury-prone, offense-only forward doesn’t gel with his regular role killing penalties, a role he’s held going back to his time with the Islanders a decade ago.

Presumably, Connolly’s penalty-killing experience was one of the factors that Leafs’ general manager Brian Burke looked at prior to signing him. After all, the Leafs have been notoriously inept while down a man the last few seasons – an 80.0% success rate is pretty lousy, and the Leafs haven’t even been able to reach that decidedly modest goal since 2005-06.

While we know that Connolly has averaged 1.8 minutes per game on the penalty kill over the past three seasons, had he been doing a good job in that department for the Sabres? By the numbers, it would seem that Connolly has been an exceptional penalty-killer the last few seasons. The following chart shows Connolly’s time-on-ice per game while shorthanded, as well as the Sabres’ plus/minus in 4-on-5 situations with and without Connolly on the ice.

Season PKTOI/GM 4on5 +/- w/ Connolly 4on5 +/- w/o Connolly
2008-09 2.05 -4.44/60 minutes -8.42/60 minutes
2009-10 1.63 -3.78/60 minutes -4.61/60 minutes
2010-11 1.72 -5.24/60 minutes -5.89/60 minutes
Average 1.8 -4.49/60 minutes -6.31/60 minutes

Over the past three seasons, the Sabres have averaged nearly two goals more against per hour without Connolly than they have with him. Put another way, the Sabres have been roughly 40% more efficient killing penalties when Connolly was on the ice versus when he wasn’t. It’s no wonder that McKeen’s 2011-12 Yearbook states that Connolly “excelled killing penalties.”

For one particularly impressive penalty-killing display, check the 2:35 mark of the video above.

On The Power Play

More conspicuous has been coverage of Connolly’s abilities on the man advantage, a role he regularly filled for the Sabres (over the past three seasons, Connolly has averaged just a whisker less than 3.5 minutes per game). Again, the primary question isn’t whether Connolly played on the power play, but whether he was any good in the role.

Since Connolly regularly played on the power play’s top unit, comparing plus/minus totals with and without him would be misleading – after all, he would be surrounded by higher-end talent than the players on the second unit. Instead, we will focus on his scoring totals over the past three seasons.

Season PPTOI/GM PPG/60 PPA/60 PPP/60
2008-09 3.90 1.74 3.13 4.87
2009-10 3.72 1.42 3.55 4.97
2010-11 2.82 1.69 4.05 5.74
Average 3.48 1.62 3.58 5.19

While the Sabres’ have run an above-average power play the last few seasons, Connolly’s numbers are still very good – typically, he has been the Sabre’s second-best power play scorer relative to ice-time. The fact that he’s been a key component on a successful power play is also to his credit – with the Leafs failing to ice even an NHL-average power play at any point over the past three seasons, Connolly should represent a welcome upgrade on the talent they’ve been using.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 JP Nikota
September 28 2011, 05:33PM
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To further this point, 4v5 SV% when Connolly was on the ice:

2011: .901

2010: .901

2009: .912

Only 2008-09's SV% stands out as substantially better than normal.

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#2 Kent Wilson
September 29 2011, 10:08AM
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Those are really nice PP numbers. Not quite elite, but better than average.

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