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Sabres, Stafford stuck in stalemate

Buffalo Sabres training camp starts this morning, and the biggest question is will Drew Stafford be in attendance? The answer is a resounding "I don't know."

Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and Neil Sheehy, Stafford's agent, had identical responses Friday regarding whether the restricted free agent would be signed before the Sabres take the ice in HSBC Arena.

"I don't know yet," Regier said.

Sheehy, by phone, answered: "I'm always hopeful, but I don't know."

The sides were scheduled to chat in hopes of clearing the biggest obstacle: How much is the 23-year-old right winger worth?

"It's always money," Regier said. "Every one of these situations has always come down to money. 'Not enough,' from their side, and, 'Too much,' from our side."

Stafford, the Sabres' first-round pick in 2004, is penned in as a top-six forward in Buffalo. He set career highs last season with 20 goals and 25 assists. He made $984,200.

It's possible the Stafford camp could be looking at Florida right wing Nathan Horton as their standard because of their similarities. The Panthers' first-round pick in 2003 also had 45 points last year. Horton is 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds, while Stafford is 6-2, 202. Horton is entering the third year of a six-year, $24 million deal.

Horton, though, was already well established in the NHL when he signed his contract, which came after a 31-goal, 31-assist season in 2006-07. He has 122 goals and 238 points in 357 games. Stafford has 49 goals and 110 points in 184 games.

Stafford was in HSBC Arena on Thursday.

"Players want to play, teams want their players in," Sheehy said. "We all have the same goal."

Regier was also unsure of the training camp status of his other unsigned restricted free agent, Mark Mancari. The 24-year-old tied for the scoring lead in Portland last season. He's spent four years in the minors with Buffalo, though, and was hopeful the Sabres would trade him to an organization that would give him a better chance at making the NHL.

"We have an offer outstanding to him," Regier said, referring to the team's qualifying offer of a 10 percent raise over last season's reported salary of $522,500. "We certainly would like to have him here and in the organization, but he's going to have to make that determination for himself."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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