Sabres hang on to Thomas Vanek

The Buffalo Sabres on Friday matched the seven-year, $50-million US offer sheet that restricted free agent Thomas Vanek received from the Oilers.

Thomas Vanek will not be going to Edmonton.

The Buffalo Sabres onFridaymatched the seven-year, $50-million US offer sheet that restricted free agent Vanek received from the Oilers.

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier made the announcement at a news conference held in Buffalo soon after Vanek's agent went public with the Oilers' offer.

"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."

Oilers GM Kevin Lowe — all but shut out on the unrestricted free agent market and still smarting from having centre Michael Nylander agree to, then back out of a contract — called the Sabres reaction "rather juvenile.

"I could have behaved that way with Washington (which signed Nylander)," Lowe said on a conference call. "It's a business.

"Take the personal out of it. It was right for the Oilers and obviously it was right for the Sabres."

He said he called Regier on Thursday "out of respect," but did not discuss how much may be offered and had not at that time even decided whether to go ahead with it.

Vanek, 23, is coming off a breakthrough season in which he scored 43 goals for the Sabres. The six-foot-two-inch, 208-pound left-winger also led the NHL with a plus-47 rating to help Buffalo capture the Presidents' Trophy with the NHL's best regular-season record.

A source told the Canadian Press that Vanek will receive salaries of $10 million and $8 million in the first two years under terms of the offer — including a $5-million signing bonus the first season and a $3-million signing bonus in the second. He will then make $6.4 million in each of the remaining five seasons.

Stephen Bartlett, the agent for Vanek,said the contract could turn out to be a bargain.

"Is he overpaid in the early years? Possibly yes. But will he be in later years? Probably no,"Bartlett said.

Under the NHL's rules of restricted free agency, the Sabreshad seven days to decide whether tomatch the offer oraccept a package of four first-round draft picks as compensation from the Oilers.Because the Sabres matched the offer, Vanek was obligated to stay with the team.

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 and added eight goals and four assists in 26 career playoff contests.

Though Vanek will gobble up roughly one fifth of Buffalo'ssalary-cap spacein the first year of his deal, the Sabrescould ill afford tolosehim after watchingthree big-name playersdepart viafree agency over the last week.

Co-captains lost

On Saturday, Buffalo lost both its co-captains, as Chris Drury signed a five-year, $35.25-million contract with the New York Rangers and Daniel Briere inked an eight-year, $52-milliondeal with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Later in the week, winger Dainius Zubrus signed with the New Jersey Devils.

The Sabres retained veteran defenceman Teppo Numminen on Friday with a one-year, $2.6-million deal, while keeping Michael Ryan and Andrew Peters with, respectively, one- and two-year contracts.

Buffalo also imported backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault on Friday with a one-year deal.

With files from the Canadian Press