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Sabres retain Vanek by matching Oilers' $50 million offer

NHL.com @NHL

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -The Buffalo Sabres, still stunned at the loss of co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency, made sure Friday that high-scoring youngster Thomas Vanek would not also be getting away.

The Sabres matched the Edmonton Oilers' seven-year, $50 million offer to the second-year player Friday, announcing their move at a news conference shortly after Vanek's agent went public with news of the Oilers' offer sheet.

Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier said the Sabres were unhappy with the Oilers' approach, especially since the Sabres had warned Edmonton officials not to make the offer.

"It was always going to be a match situation, and they were well aware of it last 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."

And an expensive one at that, with Vanek scheduled to 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.

Vanek was paid $942,000 last season.

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 the Edmonton 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.

Regier said he never contemplated accepting the draft picks, saying it was more important to keep Vanek, who led Buffalo last season with 43 goals and had 84 points. Buffalo's first-round pick in the 2003 draft, Vanek's 68 goals and 132 points rank third among second-year NHLers - trailing only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin.

It's rare for teams to extend contracts to Group 2 free agents. That happened only once last year, when Philadelphia tried to sign Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler. The Canucks matched the offer.

But the environment might be changing. The new collective bargaining agreement reduced the number of draft picks teams would have to give up, and the salary cap could handcuff teams at or near the limit in trying to match offers.

Briere signed an eight-year, $52 million contract with Philadelphia, and Drury signed a five-year, $35.25 million deal with the New York Rangers. They were key members of a Sabres team that won an NHL-best 105 games the past two seasons but was eliminated in the conference finals both times.

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