Rewriting Sabres History Part II: Vanek’s Offer Sheet

Most General Manager’s of the NHL seem to play be the unwritten rule of RFA’s are off limits.  Very rarely do you see a GM target another teams valuable restricted free agent.  Some of the most recent offer sheets have come from the Flyers when they targeted Ryan Kesler in 2006 and most recently Shea Weber in 2012.  The other team who have target RFA’s are the Edmonton Oilers.  In 2007 Kevin Lowe first targeted Thomas Vanek.  After his unsuccessful attempt on Vanek, Lowe turned his sights on Anaheim RFA Dustin Penner and this time Lowe was successful.

Only July 6th, 2007 the Buffalo Sabres matched a 7 year 50 million dollar offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers on RFA Thomas Vanek.  The Sabres recently lost their two stars and leaders in Chris Drury and Daniel Briere a few days earlier.  The Sabres were backed into a corner and couldn’t let another star walk.  However, would it have been wise for the Sabres to swallow hard and let Vanek go?  If the Sabres didn’t match the offer they would have received four first round picks from Edmonton.  What if the Sabres didn’t match Vanek’s offer sheet?

Four Better Than One?

Vanek was coming off a 43 goal season with the President Trophy winning Sabres in 2007.  The Sabres were in a vulnerable spot after losing Briere and Drury on July 1st.  The Oilers smelt the blood in the water and tried to pry Vanek out of Buffalo.  The Oilers were having trouble getting unrestricted free agents to come to Edmonton, so the Oilers changed their plans and went after RFA’s.

It was a risky investment for the Oilers in having to hand over four first round picks if the Sabres didn’t match.  However after losing Pronger, Smyth, and finishing in last place in the 2006-07 season, the Oilers were desperate.   Edmonton ended up having the 12th pick in 2008, 10th in 2009, 1st in 2010, and 1st

Taylor Hall
(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

again in 2011.  The final two picks were forwards Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Surely Vanek would have made the Oilers a better team, but how much better?  Vanek reached 40 goals one time and scored over 30 three times in four years.  Edmonton on the other hand finished in last by 12 points in 2010 and by 6 points in 2011.  Vanek is a good player, however I don’t think his presence on the Oilers would have kept them out of the bottom of the NHL standings.

Sabres fans might not want to read what I’m about write.  Here is what the outcome would have looked like if Buffalo did not match the offer sheet:

Edmonton Receives: Thomas Vanek (7 years $50 million)

Buffalo Receives: 08 1st round pick (Colton Teubert-LA pick since EDM traded back), 09 1st round pick (Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson), 10 1st round pick (Taylor Hall), and 11 first round pick (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins)

Life on a Different Path

Not only would the Sabres have ended with two first round picks in the next four years and two of those picks being lottery picks.  The Sabres would also have saved on the 7 million cap hit per season with Vanek’s contract.  The Sabres only reached the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, which resulted in first round exits.  Without Vanek, the Sabres would have sunk lower in the standings and have been able to stack up the young talent for a few years when they didn’t make the playoffs and pick of the benefits of the Oilers lottery picks in 2010 and 2011.

Instead of forcing a core group of players who were only complimentary players the Sabres could have built a strong young core centered around two stars in Hall and Nugent-Hopkins.  I fully understand why Regier made the decision he did.  He was backed into a corner.  However in the long run it may have been wise for Regier to take the future with the 1st round picks.  At the end of the day most GM’s would have matched the Vanek offer sheet with a team that is coming off two straight ECF appearances.  Even with the loss of Briere and Drury, Regier may have felt he could salvage the ship.  How different the franchise would be today if the Sabres took the picks.  They may be ready to start being a great NHL team instead of in the middle of a full rebuild.