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Sabres should tell Connolly not to pack

Ryan Miller lived with the guy for six months, so it's safe to assume he knows Tim Connolly better than most of the world. Miller made a point Friday to say how much Connolly cared about the game while he recovered from the various ailments that made people doubt his durability.

In fact, whether he can stay in one piece still hasn't been determined. The only thing we know now is what the Sabres always knew, that Connolly is one of the most gifted players in the world when his body and mind are right. He makes the impossible look effortless, converts plays that most only conjure up in fantasy.

The winning goal he scored Friday night in a 3-2 win over the Canadiens was nothing short of remarkable, something we've come to expect. He's been Buffalo's best player since a broken rib, suffered after Keith Tkackuk smoked him with a vicious open-ice check, landed him on the injured list for 24 games.

Connolly was cruising through the right circle when a loose puck took a strange hop off the boards and bounced into the slot. So surprising was the gift that it knocked him off his skates as he began dangling in front of the Montreal crease. No feet, no problem. He simply backhanded the puck into the top corner from his knees.

And that's when you start thinking the Sabres better keep him through the season while trying to strike the right deal for the future. Sorry, but he's not going to get the Sabres much return in the trade market. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent in July, and there isn't much demand for healthy rentals, let alone those at high risk.

He's worth far more to the Sabres than any other team, even if it means he walks after the season. Why trade him for peanuts now when he can help them into the playoffs, allowing them to pocket the money that comes with them? He has nine goals in the past nine games, and the Sabres are 6-3 in that span.

The deeper question: What happens after the season?

That's where it gets sticky. He's a rare talent, one not exactly floating around for pennies on the open market. He can stick around and makes things right so long as he returns for the right price, a fact that's certain to test his commitment if not his conscience.

Dare I say, even in a world in which professional athletes extract every last dollar they can find, that he owes them?

Just so you know, Connolly wasn't biting Friday when asked about his future. He reached into his pocket for an assortment of cliches about focusing on the next game. He left without answering any real questions regarding his future with the organization. It's another way in which he's always been elusive.

"Timmy is the kind of person who does care," Miller said. "He might not show it to a lot of people. He might come off as a little aloof sometimes. That's just his personality. When you get to know him and he opens up, he does whatever he can to stay on the ice. I see things a little differently than most fans. He's a great player, great talent."

The Sabres took a chance on him, guaranteeing him $8.7 million over three years without getting a guarantee he would ever play again after suffering his second major concussion. He has played 69 of the 217 games, less than 32 percent, since signing the deal. But the Sabres, either through blind faith or utter stupidity, have stuck with him.

Even now, they remain seduced by his talent. They want to keep him, but they can't blindly throw money down the drain as they had in years past. It would be a shame if his relationship with Western New York, where his father was raised and his relatives live today, ended with so few answers.

If he really cared, he would want do right for a team that did right for him.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com