Shortly after the restricted free agent signed a US$50-million, seven-year offersheet with the Edmonton Oilers, the Buffalo Sabres matched the offer, keeping the high-scoring forward in western New York.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier made the announcement Friday at a news conference in Buffalo, N.Y., backing up a prior commitment that the club wouldn’t lose another top player after co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury and forward Dainus Zubrus all left as unrestricted free agents.
“It was always going to be a match situation, and they were well aware of it (Thursday night) that we were going to match,” Regier said. “I suppose you have to assume they thought we were bluffing.
“What this amounted to was an exercise in futility.”
Regier and the Sabres had a week to either match the offer or take four first-round draft picks as compensation.
“Two great cities, two great teams – neither would disappoint him,” said Vanek’s agent Stephen Bartlett. “It wasn’t a case of being unhappy in Buffalo.
“It was just a case of another good team making him an attractive offer.”
This has been a tough off-season for the Sabres. Drury signed a $35.25-million, five-year deal with the New York Rangers, Briere signed a $52-million, eight-year contract with Philadelphia while the New Jersey Devils signed Zubrus to a $20.4-million, six-year deal.
Bartlett said he wasn’t surprised to see Edmonton make such a lucrative pitch for his client.
“It’s not a surprise,” he said. “I’ve been saying for a long time that under the new CBA, Group-2 (restricted free agents) offers would become part of the landscape.”
A source requesting anonymity told The Canadian Press that Vanek’s deal calls for salaries of $10 million and $8 million in the first two years – including a $5-million signing bonus the first season and a $3-million signing bonus in the second. He would then make $6.4 million in each of the remaining five seasons.
Vanek earned $942,000 last year with Buffalo.
Bartlett said he also talked to “a handful” of other clubs about making offers to Vanek.
The six-foot-two, 208-pound left-winger, in only his second NHL season, had 43 goals with Buffalo, becoming the first Sabres player to reach the 40-goal plateau since Miroslav Satan did it in 1998-99.
Bartlett said the contract could turn out to be a bargain. The 23-year-old Vanek had 84 points in the final year of his entry-level contract.
“Is he overpaid in the early years? Possibly yes. But will he be in later years? Probably no,” he said.
It’s the second straight year that a restricted free agent has signed an offer sheet. Last season, The Philadelphia Flyers offered Ryan Kessler $1.9 million, but it was matched by the Vancouver Canucks.
Bartlett said that general managers’ past reluctance to sign unrestricted players, for fear of driving up salaries, has lessened under the new CBA, which installed a salary cap.
“Now a player can move from team to team, but you don’t drive up the total salary pool,” he said.
Vanek, a native of Baden bei Wien, Austria, was selected fifth overall by Buffalo in the 2003 NHL entry draft. In two full seasons with the Sabres, he has registered 68 goals and 64 assists in 163 career games.
He has also accumulated eight goals and four assists in 26 career playoff games.