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Sabres hope to sign Roy, Paetsch soon Sides will talk before arbitration

Other NHL clubs have dictated a substantial portion of the Buffalo Sabres' offseason so far. They were ransacked in free agency. They fended off piracy to retain their top goal scorer, forced to accept terms that made them queasy.

Now the Sabres are trying hard to make sure an arbiter doesn't impose salaries on their two remaining unsigned players.

Top returning center Derek Roy's salary arbitration hearing is scheduled for Friday. Seventh defenseman Nathan Paetsch is supposed to appear next Thursday.

The Sabres can negotiate deals right up until the hearing begins. If they cannot reach accord, whatever salary the arbiter decides is binding. A club's only choices are either to make the contract one or two years, or to walk away from the ruling and let the player become an unrestricted free agent, as the Sabres did with winger J.P. Dumont last summer.

The Sabres hope to avoid the arbitration process altogether this summer by signing Roy and Paetsch before their hearings.

"A lot of time you end up doing the contract just before the hearing," Regier said. "The dynamics are such management is there, the player is there, the agent is there. Even when things appear lost the day before, there's always a possibility to get things done heading into the proceedings."

Roy's deal is the more important of the two because he will receive a significant raise over the $627,000 he earned last season.

Roy recorded 21 goals, 63 points and a plus-37 rating. He had the fifth-most points on the NHL's highest-scoring team. His 42 assists tied for second behind Daniel Briere.

Roy is only 24 years old. His unrestricted summer would be 2010. Teams generally want to go at least two years into a blossoming player's unrestricted free agency to increase the appeal of offering a long-term contract. If that holds true in Roy's case, the Sabres would be interested in at least a five-year deal.

"The biggest factor with Derek is he's a young player we expect will get better," Regier said. "I'm sure he has the same expectations.

"You strive to do something for as long as possible, but it can't just be on the back of the club. It has to fit for both parties. But you want players like Derek to be around on a longer-term basis."

Roy's agent, Larry Kelly, this week did not return repeated phone messages from The Buffalo News. Kelly also represents Sabres winger Ales Kotalik and defensemen Brian Campbell and Toni Lydman.

Roy's return should bring comfort to Sabres fans. Although co-captains Briere and Chris Drury are gone, the line Roy centered will return. He thrived between wingers Thomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov and, for a few games, top rookie Drew Stafford.

"He had a good year playing with Thomas and Max and with Staff to a lesser degree," Regier said. "We view it as a situation where Derek's game and his role will grow and improve."

Paetsch made $495,000 last season. The 2003 seventh-round draft skated in 63 games last season when other defensemen were hurt, but he still managed two goals and 24 points to finish fourth in scoring among Buffalo defensemen. His 22 assists were tied for second behind Campbell.

"Our preference would be to do a multi-year deal," Regier said of Paetsch. "Hopefully, we can work something out before arbitration. He had a good first season. We expect him to grow and get better and we'd like to see him be a Sabre for a number of years."

Also on Regier's offseason agenda is exploring the possibility of contract extensions for three players who next summer could become unrestricted free agents: defensemen Campbell and Dmitri Kalinin and winger Jochen Hecht.

Burned by the departures of Briere and Drury on July 1, the Sabres are adjusting their managerial philosophies to prevent similarly losing key players in the future.

"I have spoken in varying terms with different agents," Regier said of next summer's UFA group. "We'll work down that road. We've set wheels in motion on the possibility of extending contracts."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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