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Arbitration a thorn in Sabres' side Agent says Roy to file this week

The Buffalo Sabres don't like the arbitration process. They want it changed.

They also may have to go through it again this summer.

The deadline for restricted free agents to file for arbitration is 5 p.m. Thursday, and Sabres center Derek Roy plans to be on the list.

"We haven't had any discussions yet with the club, so we'll no doubt be filing for arbitration," Roy's agent, Larry Kelly, said Tuesday from his office in Ottawa.

The Sabres had 12 players file for arbitration last year -- the highest number in the NHL -- but it will be much quieter this summer. Roy, forward Andrew Peters and defenseman Nathan Paetsch are the only Sabres eligible.

Peters' agent, Stephen Bartlett, spoke with the Sabres on Tuesday and is hopeful of making progress on a contract before the deadline. The answering machine message at the office of Paetsch's agent, Herb Pinder Jr., said he was on vacation.

The Sabres have aired repeated complaints about the arbitration system during the past year. They continued Monday during their news conference reacting to the departures of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.

"The arbitration process has to be fixed," managing partner Larry Quinn said.

Quinn's latest complaint was the rule that prohibits negotiations after a judgment. He said it's one reason the Sabres lost their co-captains. Briere went before an arbiter last year and received a record $5 million award. As part of the terms of acceptance, the Sabres lost the right to talk to Briere until Jan. 1 because he was on a one-year contract.

"Once an arbitration award is given, you can't negotiate a contract," Quinn said. "That arbitration process really hamstrings you."

Quinn implied the Sabres would have had a better chance of reaching a long-term deal with Briere last summer than during the season. He will find a sympathetic ear in Kelly.

"When you're two months away from unrestricted free agency, there's not really an incentive to sit down and negotiate with the club," Kelly said. "I can understand the club's feeling."

That's not to say he joins the Sabres in hating arbitration. Kelly and Bartlett are big advocates of the process.

"It's in place for a reason: to protect players who are restricted free agents who can't openly shop the market," Bartlett said. "If they feel what the club is offering is that far off of what they would get on the open marketplace, then they would at least have a chance to go and get their day in court."

The agents would like to see one change. Arbitration consists of both sides presenting contract numbers to a judge. He then awards his own price, often in the middle. The agents' preferred method would mimic baseball's arbitration, in which each side submits a proposal and the arbiter picks one.

"You can't split the baby," Bartlett said. "What happens is there's been a lot of cases where the club goes in low, the agent probably goes in higher than what the fair market value is, and the arbitrator tends to split it in the middle someplace.

"I think if you had final-offer arbitration, where he would pick one submission or the other, you'd find a lot more settlements and compromises because you wouldn't want to go in there and get smacked so bad. I don't know why they've never gone that way."

But for now, the system will stay the same, with hearings scheduled for July 20 through Aug. 4.


Bartlett also represents Sabres restricted free agent Thomas Vanek. Although most of Bartlett's chat Tuesday with General Manager Darcy Regier revolved around Peters, because of the impending deadline, there was some Vanek talk. Bartlett was intrigued by Quinn's comment the Sabres "have [Vanek's] rights, and we're not going to let them go."

"It'll be interesting to see what happens," said Bartlett, who chuckled before adding, "They actually don't have his rights. They have the right to match [an offer sheet]."

He said there has been interest in Vanek from outside the organization.

"We've had some discussions with clubs, and where that ends up, who knows?" Bartlett said. "But in the meantime we'll continue to probably talk to Buffalo or get some talks going with Buffalo to see where we're at."


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