Connolly ready to get back to health, success in Toronto Staff

8/23/2011 10:52:35 PM

Tim Connolly is ready for a change of scenery.

While the 30-year-old American centre has spent the majority of his career in Buffalo and put up his best seasons as a Sabre, Connolly often drew the ire of the fans for his inability to stay healthy.

Connolly was limited to an average of just over 40 games per season in the four years following the NHL lockout of 2004-05 due to a rash of injuries to his hip and back as well as a history of concussions.

However, Connolly has played a respectable 141 games in the past two seasons. A return to health is part of what made him an attractive off-season target for the Leafs and why he decided to head north.

"I think it's going to be good for me to have a fresh start," Connolly said. "I'm re-energized and a little more excited to play now."

If the scrutiny he faced from fans in Buffalo was ever a concern for the playmaking centre, he certainly isn't talking like a man afraid of the limelight.

"It doesn't get much better than Buffalo when you're in the U.S," Connolly said. "But Toronto is the New York Yankees of hockey."

As for the fans in Buffalo and the 'Tiny Tim' moniker they bestowed upon Connolly for his on-ice fragility, the new Leaf appears to be willing to forgive and forget.

"Everybody's entitled to their own opinion and it's not really an issue for me," he said after a practice session with his new teammates. "I had a great time there. Great fans, great city to play in, it's a great hockey city. We had a few great runs there to Conference Finals and came close, but overall I had a great time."

If Connolly can put together a healthy 2011-12 campaign, he could flourish on a young Leafs roster. Penciled in as the team's number one centre heading into the season, Connolly could see a big jump in his assist totals if he can find early chemistry with a certain young Leafs sniper.

"He's a shooter and I'm more of a passer, so if I'm playing with him, I'm just going to try to get him the puck in the shooting area," Connolly said of fellow former fifth-overall pick Phil Kessel. "He can score from anywhere."

As for entering a roster on which he is one of the oldest players, it doesn't seem to bother him one bit.

"They have a good young team, it's something that I was really looking forward to being a part of."