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NHL Draft Notebook: Ex-Sabre Vanek hits open market, McGuire Award Saturday

Thomas Vanek and Minnesota longed for a reunion. It wasn’t nearly as fruitful as they’d hoped, and it’s about to be over.

The Wild have informed Vanek he will be bought out. The former Buffalo Sabres sniper had one season left on a three-year deal that paid $19.5 million. Rather than collect $7.5 million in salary for 2016-17, Vanek will get $5 million with the buyout.

There are huge salary cap savings for the Wild. Vanek will count for $1.5 million this season rather than $6.5 million. There will be an additional $2.5 million hit to the Wild’s cap in 2017-18.

“Overall in my two years, I’m grateful I got the chance to play for the Wild,” Vanek told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It was a dream of mine.

“I wanted to come here and see if we can make it work. It just never panned out the way we both envisioned, and now here we are.”

Vanek starred for the University of Minnesota and became a local folk hero by leading the school to the NCAA championship in 2003. The Sabres drafted him fifth overall that year, and he topped 20 goals in each of his eight seasons with the club, including 43 in 2006-07.

Following trades to the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens during the 2013-14 season, Vanek signed his three-year deal with the Wild. He recorded 21 goals and 52 points during his first season but slumped to 18 goals and 41 points in 74 games this year. He was scratched several times.

The 32-year-old left winger will join the list of unrestricted free agents once the buyout is complete. He has 316 goals and 649 points in 817 NHL games.

“I think I can score 25, 30 goals in the right situation,” Vanek told the newspaper.

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NHL Central Scouting will present the second annual E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence prior to the 10 a.m. start of the draft Saturday. The award honors late Buffalo native E.J. McGuire, who served as director of Central Scouting for seven years before dying of cancer at age 58 in April 2011.

This year’s recipient is Neil Doef, who was a Central Scouting “player to watch” for the 2015 draft before sustaining a hit during the world under-17 Junior A Challenge that left him paralyzed from the waist down. After diligent rehabilitation, Doef is expected to walk across the draft stage with help from a walking pole.

“Neil’s determined approach to his ongoing journey of recovery and rehabilitation truly displays many of E.J.’s inspiring characteristics,” Dan Marr, who succeeded McGuire as scouting director, told NHL.com. “It is befitting to recognize Neil’s strength of character and positive outlook with this award.”

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The Sabres have 10 picks set for Saturday, including three in the third round. They possess Nos. 38, 69, 86, 89, 99, 129, 130, 159, 189 and 190.

“Hopefully, in rounds three through seven we come out batting .300, .400 and we’d be OK,” said Greg Royce, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting. “If we can get one out of every two picks in the later rounds, then we’re going to be a hell of team.”

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As the NHL welcomes its future players during this weekend’s draft, a Connecticut senator wants to make sure they’re protected from concussions.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal has taken issue with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman dismissing a link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). As ranking member of the subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, insurance and data security, Blumenthal has called on Bettman to answer why he believes there is no link and what the league can do better in regards to concussions.

“As the premier professional hockey league in the world, the NHL has an obligation not only to ensure the safety of your players, but to also engage in a productive dialogue about the safety of your sport at all levels − from youth to professional,” wrote Blumenthal, who served five terms as Connecticut’s attorney general before becoming a senator in 2011.

The Buffalo News this week published a four-part series detailing the concussion lawsuit brought against the NHL by former players.

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Teams got the green light to court unrestricted free agents when the clock struck at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Though the parties are prohibited from discussing exact terms of a contract, players can get general parameters, visit cities and talk to general managers about their role on the team. The interview period for restricted free agents begins Tuesday.

The free agency signing period starts Friday.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com