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Giving Sabres the business Lowe high balls Buffalo Edmonton GM insists Vanek is worth offer

Kevin Lowe has some advice for the Buffalo Sabres.

Get over it.

The Edmonton Oilers general manager on Friday employed a rarely used tactic in hopes of snatching winger Thomas Vanek away from the Sabres. Lowe tried to acquire the restricted free agent with an offer sheet worth $50 million over seven years.

Lowe failed when the Sabres matched the offer.

The ploy drew the ire of Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn and General Manager Darcy Regier, who are still reeling from Black Sunday.

Although Quinn said he knew "there was a very high likelihood that this would happen," he blasted Lowe for jacking up the price of Buffalo's top goal scorer.

"We always had an attitude here that we don't do these things," Quinn said. "When it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, if there's an opportunity to put an offer sheet on a player as long as we're alive, we'll be comfortable doing that. They can expect it if it's in our best interest."

Lowe responded matter-of-factly in a conference call with reporters.

"It's quite a bold statement by that organization," Lowe said. "I think it's rather juvenile on their part.

"Fellas, it's a business. Take the personal out of it. It was the right offer for the Oilers, and apparently it was right for the Sabres."

Much of the Sabres' incredulity stemmed from their warnings to Lowe in advance. Regier said he expressed to Lowe on Thursday night the Sabres would match any offer to keep Vanek.

"I explained exactly what was going to happen, why he shouldn't do it, why it was pointless," Regier said.

"I can only assume they thought we were bluffing."

Regier said, in addition to Vanek's talent, the Sabres matched "to say to everyone in the National Hockey League that if you want to shop this way, don't come shop here."

Offer sheets to restricted free agents are totally within the rules under the NHL collective bargaining agreement, but rarely used. When applied, the tactic creates considerable rancor over the notion of stealing or, at the very least, driving up the price of another club's personnel.

A reporter asked Lowe if hockey management was turning cutthroat if executives keep trying to poach prized restricted free agents.

"Cutthroat can be a strong word," the seven-time NHL All-Star said. "It's a business, and it's a sport. I like to think that I try to be a gentleman off the ice and respectful to people. Having said that, and having played against many of my best friends, I wasn't afraid to take runs at them.

"It's all about winning."

Vanek will make $10 million this season, $8 million next season and $6.4 million in each of the final five.

"We take a lot of pride in our team and could see him not only helping our team short-term, but long-term," Lowe said. "You start to envision that a team with a pillar like that can win a championship, so you start getting excited. This wasn't a publicity stunt by any stretch. I thought the offer as strong as it was, that we would get the player. If we didn't feel the player was worth that offer, then that's risky business."

The Oilers are desperate to improve their roster after believing they had earlier agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent Michael Nylander. But the coveted forward backed out of the deal and signed with the Washington Capitals. By the time the Nylander situation had been sorted out, there was little left to choose from on the free agency market.

One of Lowe's options was to go after other teams' restricted free agents. He failed to land Vanek, but rumors from Edmonton indicate he will go after somebody else. Candidates include New Jersey Devils center Zach Parise and St. Louis Blues forward Lee Stempniak, a West Seneca native.

"Our intention is to try and make our team better before the season starts," Lowe said. "There are other players out there. We'll take some time and think about what do. But we will not be firing off a bunch of offer sheets."

Friday's offer sheet was only the second signed in the NHL since 1999. A year ago, Ryan Kesler signed a one-year, $1.9 million offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers, but the Vancouver Canucks matched it.

Hockey experts debated for months whether this summer would feature more offer sheets. Naysayers pointed to an unspoken gentlemen's agreement among front offices to keep their hands to themselves. Proponents called it an effective way to improve a roster in a hard salary-cap system.

"People looked at me like I had four eyes when I said I thought I would get an offer sheet for Thomas," said Steve Bartlett, Vanek's agent.

"In the old days, there was implicit peer pressure that 'If you do this and we match, all we're doing is driving up the price.' In the salary-cap NHL, you can redistribute the pie, but it's not getting any bigger. Some players just get a bigger piece."



The contract: A look inside Thomas Vanek's Edmonton offer that was matched by the Sabres

Money: $50 million

Length of contract: seven years

*Year One: $5 million plus $5 million bonus

*Year Two: $5 million plus $3 million bonus

Years Three-Seven: $6.4 million each


What would have happened if the Sabres had not matched the offer: The Oilers would have owed Buffalo four first-round picks as compensation.

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