BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Buffalo Sabres retained the rights to three key restricted free agents by extending qualifying offers to forwards Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur and defenceman Andrej Sekera.
General manager Darcy Regier made the announcement on Monday, hours before a 5 p.m. deadline for teams to make offers to their restricted free agents.
The Sabres will now be able to match any potential offer made to these players by another team when the NHL free agency period begins on Wednesday.
Of the three, Stafford could be a target for an outside offer. The 23-year-old 2004 first-round pick blossomed into an offensive threat this past season by scoring 20 goals, the third-most on the team.
MacArthur, meanwhile, is arbitration eligible after posting 31 points in 71 games, while Sekera, 23, played in 69 games in his first full season with the Sabres.
Regier seemed confident that he would be able to sign all three to long-term deals this summer, but wasn't optimistic that it would get done before Wednesday.
"We've had some conversations, but I think in most cases these players want to get into the restricted period and see what might be out there," he said.
The Sabres also retained the rights to rugged second-year forward Patrick Kaleta, who had four goals and five assists in 51 games last season.
Regier doesn't think anything will get done with unrestricted free agent defenceman Jaroslav Spacek before Wednesday even though he received an e-mail from Spacek's agent Monday morning.
Spacek led all Buffalo defencemen with 45 points in 80 games last season. Of his eight goals, four were scored on the power play.
"I expect him to go into the unrestricted market and test it," Regier said.
The Sabres have offered Spacek a one-year deal, while the defenceman is seeking a longer-term contract.
Spacek agent Stephen Freyer said he sent the e-mail to provide Regier one more chance to re-sign his client, and noted that the decision is now left with the Sabres.
After missing the playoffs for two straight seasons, Regier knows he has to improve his club. How he does it - whether through trades or free agency - over the next two months remains to be seen.
"I just think there will be more work over the course of the summer this year than probably in the past," he said. "I don't think the (free agency) market has been established yet.
"There's still a feeling-out period. The harder part is going to be trying to find a fit."