Kennedy out to resuscitate his NHL career

Kennedy out to resuscitate his NHL career
February 20, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Tim Kennedy was awarded a $1 million salary for his next season on July 26, 2010. Four days later, the Sabres waived him. (AP)

You make choices in your life and you can’t take them back, and it’s a choice I made, and I’m not blaming it on anyone else.
—Sharks forward Tim Kennedy

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You have to work, you have to invest, and we’ve got to keep working on our game.
—Todd McLellan

CHICAGO – It’s been a rocky road for Sharks forward Tim Kennedy since what he calls a “series of unfortunate events” over the past few years.

It started after his only complete season in the NHL in 2009-10, when Kennedy had 10 goals and 16 assists in 78 games for the Buffalo Sabres. Kennedy, a Buffalo native, took the Sabres to arbitration that summer, and won. Big.

The 5-10, 173-pounder was awarded a $1 million salary for the next season on July 29, 2010. Four days later, the Sabres waived him and eventually bought him out, and he’s struggled to make it back to the NHL on a full time basis ever since.

“I was really young and naïve when I went into the [arbitration] process,” Kennedy said on Wednesday in Chicago after the Sharks practiced. “Maybe [I was] not hearing the best advice from some players who I talked to about it, because they were some of the more established players in the league and they went to [arbitration]. It was my first year.

“But, that’s how it happens. You make choices in your life and you can’t take them back, and it’s a choice I made, and I’m not blaming it on anyone else. That’s how it works out, and I’ve grown stronger as a person from it.”

Kennedy signed with the Rangers after leaving Buffalo, but was relegated to the AHL to start the season to make room for Chris Drury. The Rangers traded him to Florida on Feb. 26, 2011, and he managed to play in six games with the Panthers late that season, getting one assist. Last season, he suited up in 27 games for Florida, but managed just two points (1g, 1a) while also playing a handful of games for their AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

The Sharks acquired him on Jan. 26, 2012, and immediately assigned him to Worcester, where he spent the rest of the 2011-12 season. Kennedy said the trade to the Sharks was “kind of shocking,” and that he was told by Sharks management to approach the rest of the season in Worcester as a tryout for the 2012-13 campaign.

“He’s a player that had a really good career path, and it was interrupted,” Sharks assistant general manager Wayne Thomas said. The arbitration ruling, Thomas said, "set him back a little bit. He couldn’t find another organization that fit. Our scouting staff really liked what he had done through his career.”

“It was like a blessing in disguise, right now,” Kennedy said. “I liked the coaching staff [in Worcester], it was a really smooth transition, and this year getting to work with the staff up here during the lockout kind of helped me out.”

Kennedy chose to sign an AHL deal with the Sharks, since he didn’t know what kind of wavier rules would be in place in the new CBA, but said he fully intended to re-sign with the Sharks this summer when he was a restricted free agent. He did that shortly after the end of the lockout, agreeing to a one-year deal.

Kennedy would have been in training camp with the Sharks had he not suffered an injury in the AHL. Named as a mid-season All-Star for San Jose’s top affiliate, Kennedy was among the AHL’s scoring leaders until he got hurt in January, sidelining him for three weeks.

He didn’t fade from the minds of the Sharks’ coaches, though, who got to see plenty of his impressive season during the NHL lockout. Kennedy had 37 points in 37 games with Worcester at the time of his recall on Feb. 12.

“Our farm club, until [the end of the lockout], there wasn’t a second they played that wasn’t viewed – by me personally, by the coaching staff, by the organization,” Todd McLellan said.

“He would have been in training camp. He earned the right and the opportunity to be there based on what he did in Worcester the first half of the season. There’s no doubt in my mind he was on our list, as a group of coaches, to come in and compete for that week. Where it would have gone, I don’t know. We told him to sit tight, get healthy and get playing again, and he’d get his chance. And, he has.”

Kennedy is making the most of it so far, scoring twice in his first three games and showing a knack for generating scoring chances while playing on a few different lines. He had perhaps the best scoring chance in a shutout loss in the first period in Nashville in his season debut on Feb. 12, when he was robbed by Pekka Rinne; finished off a brilliant feed from Logan Couture last Friday in Chicago for the Sharks’ only goal; and blasted in a slap shot on Tuesday in St. Louis that helped end San Jose’s seven-game losing streak.

The message to Kennedy before the AHL season began was a simple one.

“They basically told us it was an open tryout, and just play how you can play. I was very fortunate to get to work with the [San Jose] staff down there because they were there so often, and I became accustomed with them and how they wanted to play,” he said.

“I still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go, but I think it’s working out well so far.”

Back to work
The Sharks held an energetic, one-hour skate on Wednesday afternoon at Johnny’s Ice House in Chicago. They’ll have another skate there on Thursday morning, in preparation for a rematch against the NHL’s best team.

They are hoping the win in St. Louis is the start of something good, but it won’t be easy against the 13-0-3 Blackhawks, who will be attempting to set a league record for points in consecutive games to start a season. They tied the mark, set by the 2006-07 Ducks, with a win over Vancouver on Tuesday.

What can the Sharks do to build off of their long-awaited victory over the Blues?

“You work. You work, and I thought today we had a good, hard practice,” McLellan said. “Guys realize that you can’t take moments off on non-game days. You have to work, you have to invest, and we’ve got to keep working on our game.”

Offense is still a major issue. The Sharks have scored two or fewer goals in regulation in nine of the last 10 games. The power play is 2-for-42 in the last nine games.

McLellan said: “We’re still finding ways to find more than two goals a night. It’s going to be tough to win scoring two. The power play has to get better. There were some good signs of it last night in St. Louis, but it still didn’t produce, and we’ve got to keep getting better. There isn’t a magic wand that gets us on an eight-game winning streak. It’s simple work.”