Sabres think Connolly's fine, give him healthy raise
The deal represents a hefty raise for Connolly, who made $1.03 million last season while registering a career-high 55 points. He will make $2.2 million next year, $3 million the following season and $3.5 million in 2008-09.
In agreeing to the deal, the Sabres are confident Connolly will fully recover from a season-ending concussion that forced him to miss Buffalo's final 10 playoff games.
It was the second serious concussion Connolly sustained during his six-year NHL career, the first one forcing him to miss the entire 2003-04 season.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said he's been assured by the team's medical staff and a concussion specialist that Connolly will be ready for the start of the season.
Connolly's agent, J.P. Barry, said his client's rehab is progressing and, based on the last medical checkup, Connolly should be cleared to begin skating within two weeks.
The deal came after Barry and Connolly met with Regier and other team executives earlier in the day. Connolly's arbitration hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.
Regier added that Connolly's performance before the injury played a significant role in the team wanting to secure him to a long-term deal.
"We foresee him building on what he accomplished last year," Regier said. "Up until the playoffs when he took the hit, he was performing at a very high level, a very good player."
Despite missing 19 games with a knee injury, Connolly finished fifth on the Sabres with 16 goals and 39 assists in 63 regular-season games. He had five goals and six assists in eight playoff games before being hurt in the opening minute of Game 2 of Buffalo's second-round series against Ottawa.
Connolly was hurt when he was caught skating through the middle with his head down and failed to avoid a clean check by Peter Schaefer.
The Sabres had patiently waited for Connolly to blossom after acquiring him as part of a deal that sent former captain Michael Peca to the New York Islanders in June 2001.
The Connolly deal comes a day after the Sabres avoided arbitration by signing defenseman Toni Lydman and forward Jason Pominville to long-term contracts.
Buffalo still has four players scheduled for arbitration hearings, starting with J.P. Dumont on Monday. The group also includes Maxim Afinogenov, whose hearing is scheduled for Thursday. Afinogenov is expected to command a hefty raise over his $1.08 million contract after leading the team with 73 points last season.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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