Sabres draw the line, match Oilers' offer sheet for Vanek

Updated: July 9, 2007, 12:14 AM ET
Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Losing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency was bad enough. The Buffalo Sabres weren't going to let high-scoring youngster Thomas Vanek get away at any price.

Without hesitation, the Sabres signed Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million contract Friday, matching the offer the player received from the Edmonton Oilers.

Thomas Vanek

Vanek

Vanek will make a little more than 10 times his 2006-07 salary in the first year of his new multi-year deal with Buffalo.

"We matched it for a lot of different reasons," Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said. "One, was to say to everyone in the National Hockey League, 'If you want to shop this way, don't come here."'

The Oilers move also enraged Buffalo, with Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn warning his team will consider making offers to Edmonton players in the future.

"I'm happy we have Thomas for seven years. I think that's really important to state here," Quinn said. "But it's not doing the Edmonton Oilers any good what they did today."

Nothing personal, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said.

"I think it's rather juvenile on their part," Lowe said. "Fellas, it's a business. Take the personal out of it. It was right for the Oilers and obviously, it appears, it's right for the Sabres."

Vanek becomes one of the NHL's top-paid players entering only his third year, and after he led Buffalo with 43 goals and finished 20th in the league with 84 points last season. Buffalo's first-round pick in the 2003 draft, Vanek's 68 goals and 132 points rank third among second-year NHL players -- trailing only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin.

In a radio interview in Buffalo, the Austrian-born Vanek was excited to remain in Buffalo and eager to play up to the expectations that come with his new contract.

"I left Austria when I was 14 years old, and my dream wasn't to sign a $50 million contract," Vanek said. "My dream was to play in the NHL and be one of the best players and win a Stanley Cup and that's still the main goal. Money's not going to buy you a Stanley Cup ... I'm ready to prove myself even more than I did last year."

The Oilers move was not unprecedented, but still considered a bold one in how much the team was willing to spend knowing the Sabres had the right to match.

The Sabres retained Vanek's rights by issuing him a qualifying offer last month, but the player -- as a Group 2 free agent -- was open to negotiating other deals. Had the Sabres not matched Edmonton's offer, the Oilers would have had to give up four first-round draft picks to Buffalo as compensation.

Draft pick compensation is based on the offer's average annual salary. Four first-round picks is the maximum compensation, required for any team that makes an offer of more than $5 million a year.

Vanek, who made $942,400 last season in the final year of his rookie contract, will make $10 million next season, including a $5 million signing bonus. He'll make $8 million in 2008-09, including a $3 million bonus, and then $6.4 million in each of the final five years of the deal.

The Sabres had every intention of retaining Vanek, particularly when they were still stinging after losing both co-captains on Sunday, when Briere signed with Philadelphia and Drury with the New York Rangers.

Learning of the Oilers' interest in Vanek on Thursday, the Sabres went as far as to warn Lowe that any offer he made would be matched.

"I suppose you have to assume they thought we were bluffing," Regier said. "What this amounted to was an exercise in futility."

Warnings aside, Lowe was confident the Oilers had a good chance to land Vanek.

"This wasn't a publicity stunt by any stretch," Lowe said. "We had our reasons internally that we thought it might work."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press