BUFFALO – Finally, more than three years after the leaving the Sabres, Tim Kennedy’s career appears to be on an upswing again.
The South Buffalo native has spent the last month as a Phoenix Coyotes regular, mostly playing left wing on a top line beside Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal. Kennedy skated 19:05 on Thursday, just 11 seconds less than his career high.
It’s been a long, arduous journey for Kennedy since the Sabres unexpectedly waived him in August 2010 following a large arbitration award. The Coyotes are already the 27-year-old’s fifth NHL team.
“It’s been a struggle here the last few years ever since I left here,” Kennedy said Sunday inside the First Niagara Center after the Coyotes prepared for tonight’s tilt against the Sabres. “But I’m just trying to find my niche on a team. This month’s been good here.”
Kennedy’s already on his third recall this season. Of course, by now he’s used to going up and down and moving around. He’s played for eight AHL and NHL teams over the last four years.
“It’s tough,” said Kennedy, who’s also played for the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks. “When you leave the team you get drafted (to), the next team doesn’t have stock in you. So you reprove yourself to a different set of staff, scouts, coaches. So it just takes a while.
“I think if you would’ve told me when I’m 18, 19 that I’d be doing this for a living, I would take that.”
Kennedy finally stuck in the NHL again last season, spending the final four months with San Jose after playing well in Worchester during the lockout.
Why did he choose Phoenix?
“Just after talking to their GM and assistant GM I thought this was the best opportunity to play most of the year up here,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t have the best camp I wanted to. I had to go down to Portland, work hard.”
Kennedy, however, didn’t last long in Portland, a place he starred with the Pirates as an AHL rookie with the Sabres in 2008-09. He has one goal and six points in 20 games with Phoenix.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who believes Kennedy had a good camp, called him “a real good find for us.”
“We fell into injuries and we started using him, and he’s kind of earned his ice time,” Tippett said. “He’s a player that can play quick. His tenacity on the puck is really good. He’s fit in pretty well with Hanzal (and) Vrbata because he can make a good play. He’s fearless going to the net.”
That quickness and fearlessness, along with some versatility – attributes that helped Kennedy compile 10 goals and 26 points in 78 games here in 2009-10, his only full NHL season – has helped Kennedy stay up most of 2013.
“I can play wing or I can play center,” Kennedy said. “The league today, it’s just getting faster and faster. So you have to play with speed, and I think that’s what I bring to the table. I play with speed, skill and just grit.”
The Sabres’ recent changes – general manager Darcy Regier was fired last month after 16 years and Ted Nolan’s their third coach in less than a year – surprised Kennedy.
“It’s unfortunate what happened here,” he said. “The staff that was here, they gave me my chance and they gave me my break. … Things were going rough here for a while, and they really changed it really quick. I was actually shocked when it happened. I didn’t think it would happen that quick in season. But it did. They seem to be turning things around here.”
Tonight will be Kennedy’s fourth game against the Sabres and his third here as an opponent. He still makes his offseason home in West Seneca.
“It’s still special playing here,” he said. “It’s just another game on the road.”
The Sabres had Sunday off.