Marc Savard’s Concussion Brings Reminders of Tim Connolly

When Marc Savard’s season was ended by a blow to the head by former teammate Matt Hunwick, one could almost imagine that the first thought GM Peter Chiareli’s mind was something along the lines of “…and here we go again.”  The whole Boston fan-base echoed this entire sentiment.

Boston’s season was over, wasn’t it?

Obviously, we know the outcome to that.  Boston had great depth that allowed them to win the Stanley Cup.

Recently, at Boston’s Victory Parade, an ESPN reporter caught up with Savard.  Apparently, Savard’s still having major post-concussion syndrome issues.

“I’m feeling better but I still have my days and my memory is the biggest thing,” Savard said.  “My memory is not very good. Mornings are tough but besides that, I’m doing a lot better.”

After all this time (it’s two days from being exactly 6 months from his last concussion), Savard is still having memory trouble.  He had post-concussion syndrome symptoms from his first concussion as well.  He couldn’t seem to shake them.  He came back last year to play against Philly in the playoffs, but even after that, he started getting the headaches back.

He never took the ice again until November of 2010.  He only got another 20-or-so games in until–BOOM!  Another season lost for the troubled Savard.

This whole thing has brought back memories of a guy who couldn’t seem to shake the concussion bug years ago: Tim Connolly.

Connolly was a promising, up-and-coming player.  A 5th overall draft pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Connolly was known for his soft hands, his quick skating, and his ability to fight in the corners.  He was a shifty player, able to fake out almost any type of defense coming his way.  With all this promise, Islanders GM at the time, Mike Milbury, decided to package Connolly and 1999 8th overall pick Taylor Pyatt to Buffalo in 2001 in order to grab Mike Peca.  (I’m looking back at that trade right now…what in the world was Milbury thinking?)

Both Connolly and Pyatt were below-the-radar players.  They were good, served a purpose, got their points.  They played sound, decent hockey.

Connolly was getting better and better, and after three years with the Sabres, he had only missed two games.

That’s when all the injuries started.

Connolly lost the entire 2003-04 season due to post-concussion syndrome from a concussion he suffered in a preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks.  On top of the 2004-05 NHL season being lost due to the lockout, Connolly missed two entire seasons of hockey.

Thankfully, Connolly recovered and came back for the 2005-06 season, where he had a career year, scoring 16 goals and 55 points in 63 games.  Injuries once again took their toll on Connolly that season, but thankfully none of it had to do with concussion issues.

Not in the regular season, at least.  Connolly was having a fantastic playoffs, grabbing 11 points in the eight games that he played.  He played like a man possessed in Game 1 of the Ottawa series, where he scored 2 goals, one of them being the game-tying goal with 10.7 seconds to go.  In Game 2, everything came to a screeching halt when Peter Schaefer came across center ice and nailed Tim Connolly, effectively ending his playoff season.

Darcy Regier showed faith that Connolly would get through one.  After the playoffs ended and the Sabres were eliminated, Regier rewarded Connolly for his breakout year with a brand new, three-year deal.

“We foresee him building on what he accomplished last year,” Regier said back in 2006. “Up until the playoffs when he took the hit, he was performing at a very high level, a very good player.”

Unfortunately for Regier, that contract didn’t look so great as Connolly went on to miss the next 80 games due to issues from post-concussion syndrome.

Since that concussion, Connolly hasn’t been the same player.  Gone was the soft hands he used to have, weaving in and out of players just to keep posession.  Long forgotten was the speed he had played the game with.  Vanished was his game-in-game-out effort to play in the dirty areas of the ice, possibly from a fear of getting hurt again.

While Connolly went on to post decent numbers (47 points in 48 games in 2008-09, 65 points in 2009-10), but his injury problems never went away.  Between a broken rib, a stress fracture in his leg, and cracked vertebrae from a stick-butt in the back, Connolly had officially inherited the label of “injury prone.”

Even though Connolly’s regular season stats didn’t suffer (at the time), he seemingly lacked the necessary drive to play the game as hard as he used to.  He looked afraid to go after the puck from time to time.  He just couldn’t produce when it mattered most, which is what was expected out of a guy who signed a 2-year, $9 million contract.

It all came down to what seems to be the final season of his career in Buffalo.  He had to prove his worth, and he failed, scoring only 42 points in 68 games, missing more games with various injuries (although, really, there was nothing he could do about a puck hitting him in the face.)

It all seemed to come full-circle once the playoffs came around.  It was game 6, and Connolly went into a corner to collect a puck, something that he seemed to be getting better at.  But once again, the injury bug came and bit Connolly right on the head, as Mike Richards came flying into the zone, laying a bone-crushing hit onto one of the few centers the Sabres actually had.  Connolly’s season was over, quite possibly his career as well, the way the hit looked.

Connolly’s final year with the Sabres truly ended with a bang.  Regier hasn’t completely closed the door on Tim just yet, saying that the Sabres could very well sign Connolly if they deem the price to be right.  But let’s be honest;  Connolly isn’t going to take a massive paycut just to get another chance with the team that gave him his in the first place.

Connolly is one of few centers in free agency that may attract attention, and he’s going to get market price for what he’s done in season’s past, which has been good, maybe above-average.

With all of that in mind about Connolly, Marc Savard’s journey doesn’t seem to be over yet.  It’s highly unlikely Savard will be playing in the beginning of next season for the Bruins.  Could Savard’s career be in jeopardy?

It’s something he and Connolly may want to talk about.

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