TORONTO – A day after staying quiet at the start of NHL free agency, the Toronto Maple Leafs jumped in with a big splash.
The Leafs signed unrestricted free-agent centre Tim Connolly to a two-year contract worth US$9.5 million.
“This is the most excited I’ve been for a season in a long time,” said Connolly from a hotel in the Turks and Caicos.
Connolly will earn $5.5 million for the 2011-12 season and $4 million in 2012-13.
The move was announced Saturday only hours after marquee free-agent centre Brad Richards agreed to join the New York Rangers.
The Leafs were among the teams courting Richards on Friday with an in-person presentation, hoping to land a player who could centre Toronto’s top line with Phil Kessel.
“He has tremendous speed and talent and I’ve usually been able to find chemistry with that type of player,” said Connolly of his new teammate Kessel. “My job is to get him the puck and get it to him often. I’m really excited.”
Connolly is coming off a strong season in Buffalo where he had 13 goals and 42 points in 68 games. However, the Sabres were one the teams dishing out big money on the first day of free agency, highlighted by handing 19-goal man Ville Leino a $27-million, six-year deal, but didn’t make an offer to Connolly.
“There were a few other teams interested but what it came down to was my agent (J.P. Barry) talking with Dave Nonis and Brian Burke and they showed interest before the Brad Richards signing and we decided the Maple Leafs will be the best fit for me,” said Connolly.
Connolly, who was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and compares playing for Toronto to playing for the New York Yankees, joins the Leafs with a long history of injuries. He played all 82 games just once in eight years with Buffalo.
“I am healthy … and the way I feel now is great,” said Connolly.
He’s going into his 11th NHL season, having also spent time with the New York Islanders. In 627 career games, Connolly has 118 goals and 277 assists for 395 points.
Connolly has played in 36 career playoff games with five goals and 18 assists, and had two assists in Buffalo’s first-round loss to Philadelphia last season.