Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller took exception to a Toronto Sun article by Steve Simmons that used words such as “difficult” and “spoiled brat” to describe the Toronto Maple Leafs new $9.5 million man, Tim Connolly.
From Simmons’ Tuesday article:
When you ask hockey people questions about Connolly the first thing they ask in return is: “Can we go off the record?” They want to tell you the story or at least their version of the story. They just don’t want their names attached to the Maple Leafs’ $9.5 million signing. Among the terms used to describe Connolly are: Soft. Sullen.
Difficult. Loner. Spoiled brat. Silver spoon kid. Entitled. Not a team player. Almost the opposite of what you expect most hockey players to be.
And one more thing: Supremely skilled.
Simmons would go on to quote several hockey people including Mike Milbury, Sherry Bassin that offer praise, criticism, and the predictable ‘what if’ with regards to Connolly’s career. One unnamed NHL executive offered the following when asked about the former 5th overall (1999) pick:
“The talent is still there. But is the commitment level there? Is the willingness there? That we’ll find out. Toronto didn’t make a bad move here. They did the only thing that was available to them. So here comes the opportunity for Connolly but with it goes accountability. That’s the part I wonder about, that’s the part everybody wonders about. I think Brian Burke and Ron Wilson will have their hands full here.”
Miller did not mince words in response to the criticism of Connolly, whom he praised as a player who cares about his teammates and winning. Via James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail:
“It’s unfortunate the media hasn’t even let him get on the ice before starting with this crap.”
“I think some people in the media [in Buffalo] felt like he owed them explanations beyond what he cared to share, and it just became a little bit of a vendetta. From my perspective, the only thing Tim doesn’t care about is what the talking heads think about him. He cares about hockey fans, he cares about winning and he cares about his teammates.”
Miller acknowledged the struggles that Connolly faced, but praised him again for his ability to evolve his game in order to help the Sabres:
“Tim committed to recreating himself over the last few years to bring value to our team. He hasn’t been perfect and no one is … but he has had major obstacles to contend with and has come out as a solid NHL player every time he has been knocked down. He never quit.”
Not the best start that Connolly could have hoped for in the start of his tenure with the Maple Leafs, but the support from Miller should stem the tide of attacks from his detractors for a little while. It should be noted that Simmons wasn’t attacking Connolly, at least not directly, but rather quoting people familiar with the player. Regardless, Connolly has faced more than his fair share of criticism from the Buffalo media over the years – a fresh start in Toronto could be just what the doctor ordered for the 30-year old… so as long as he’s healthy.
You can bet your ass that Leafs’ GM Brian Burke won’t stand for any unwarranted attacks from the media on Connolly over the summer, but once the puck drops it will be up to the player to deliver the goods on that two-year $9.5 million contract.