Sabres think Connolly's fine, give him healthy raise

The Buffalo Sabres and Tim Connolly avoided salary arbitration,
agreeing to a three-year, $8.7 million contract Friday.

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

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.