One thing that gets me when I’m mocking up lines for next season is I always seem to forget about Tim Connolly. There’s just a lot of clutter in this lineup, and Connolly didn’t have a particularly good campaign so he’s easily forgettable.
Connolly’s boxcar numbers are pretty lacking: he had just 13 goals and 36 points in 70 games this season, playing as a hybrid first-and-third line centreman, and clearly wasn’t the answer to the Phil Kessel centreman riddle, splitting much of his time with Tyler Bozak.
He was signed to a low-risk two-year deal, so this is his last season with the $4.75M cap hit that is probably overpriced for the 31-year old. What should we expect?
Well, not a whole heck of a lot, to be honest.
Connolly’s 13 goals and 36 points ranked him, respectively, 184th and 156th among forwards in the NHL last season. Since there are 90 first liner players and 90 second line players, Connolly bridged the gap between the 2nd and 3rd line, which is about where he spent most of his ice-time.
As a first liner
Another way to look at it is from the Behind The Net time on ice application. Connolly played 28.7% of his 909.42 minutes with Phil Kessel, and 28.3% of his time with Joseph Crabb. Unless there was a significant overlap I think that we can sufficiently say that there was a pretty equal split between his first and third line minutes this season.
So his point totals probably should be a little bit higher. Unfortunately, we don’t really have a way of telling exactly how Kessel did with Connolly as opposed to Tyler Bozak in regards to point-scoring on the top line.
We can figure out how either influenced puck possession with Phil Kessel. If Connolly is a better option than Bozak on the first line, then, naturally, then Kessel and Joffrey Lupul should have more puck possession, or more goals, with Connolly as opposed to Bozak:
|Possession||With Connolly||With Bozak|
|Goals||With Connolly||With Bozak|
Bozak is better than Connolly in all four categories, except their equal at goal-scoring with Phil Kessel on the ice. Since David Johnson’s website doesn’t leave the option open of calculating shooting percentages, my guess is that since there’s still such a discrepancy in overall puck possession, that Kessel and Connolly played a few unsustainable minutes together.
So Bozak is a better option. Now, this could be corrected if Connolly and Kessel were playing harder minutes together than Kessel and Bozak were. That would show up in the data if Connolly were playing clearly tougher minutes than Bozak was this season, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Here are their quality of competition and offensive zone start % from last season, including their team rank out of 12 forwards.
|Quality of Competition||Offensive Zone Start %|
|Tyler Bozak||0.340 (7th)||52.5% (6th)|
|Tim Connolly||0.428 (5th)||49.8% (4th)|
Connolly’s numbers are slightly harder than Bozak’s. He faced a slightly higher quality of competition according to Behind the Net’s “Corsi Rel QoC” measure (which I will be explaining later this summer). Connolly also started a few extra shifts in the defensive zone than Bozak did, but not enough, again, to make up for that huge differential in possession.
Finding the right role
So what’s Connolly’s upside? Going back through his career, you can see that he’s had some moderate success against tough competition when used sparingly. Since the 2008 season, he’d never played 13 minutes a night at 5-on-5, but his role was upped in Toronto this past season.
The problem is that Connolly is more fitted towards being a second-line centre than a first-liner. He’s never had the scoring numbers to be taken seriously as a realistic offensive threat. Again, the issue here in Toronto is that Mikhail Grabovski is the second line centreman.
You can see that Connolly’s had some success influencing the possession of non-top-line players:
(In this case, CF and CA refer to “Corsi Event For” and “Corsi Event Against”. A Corsi Event is any shot attempt, whether scored, saved, missed or blocked, directed at either net when a player is on the ice. The Possession % refers to the percentage of shots that were for the Leafs when the players were on the ice)
Crabb and Matt Lombardi both did much better with Connolly. Is it because Tim Connolly’s game is not as suited for the north-south style of Kessel and Lupul and does the extra minutes when playing on the Toronto top line wear him down?
This is a case where, it isn’t the ideal solution, but reducing Connolly’s minutes to a second-or-third line role will probably give him room to improve. He was a slightly positive influence on Buffalo’s top forwards in the three years prior to joining the Leafs. Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford had a 51.4% puck possession rate with Connolly and were 50.7% without.
Tim Connolly still has some value at the NHL level, but it’s probably not as a first liner. Both Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski, for sure, do much better on that top line than Connolly does. Finding the ideal depth role, preferably limited minutes against moderate opposition and treading water, pitching in a couple more goals than the average centreman would in that slot. He won’t be worth his contract, but his contract is only around for another season.