Friday, July 6, 2007

And the Games Have Begun

I'm away from the computer for just over an hour and the hockey world has a moderately sized explosion. The 23-year old Thomas Vanek, a restricted free agent for the Buffalo Sabres, just had his dreams come true. The fifth overall draft pick of 2003 had an incredible sophomore season leading Buffalo in goals with 43. He also added 41 assists and earned an astronomical plus/minus of +47.

Well, the Oilers had intended to be serious players in the free agent pool and flat out struggled to do so which drove them to tender an enormous offer sheet for Vanek. They offered him a seven-year, $50 million dollar deal which is a considerable raise over his $942,000 salary last year. Since Vanek was a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer from the Sabres, Buffalo had the option to match the deal or choose to pass and receive four first round draft picks as compensation from the Oilers.

For those that don't know, a restricted free agent can receive offer sheets from other teams that their team has the option to match. If their original team chooses to pass on the offer, allowing the other team to sign their player, they get draft picks as compensation. The number and round of the picks is dependant on the size of the offer:

$660,000 or compensation
Over $600,000 to $1 million..........a 3rd round pick
Over $1 million to $2.0 million.......a 2nd round pick
Over $2.0 million to $3.0 million....a 1st and 3rd round pick
Over $3.0 million to $4.0 million....a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick
Over $4.0 million to $5.0 million....Two 1st round picks, a 2nd round pick and a 3rd round pick
Over $5.0 million............................Four first round picks

Buffalo had apparently been telling Edmonton all along that they would match whatever deal was offered, something they had been very public about, so this was most likely a strategic move by Edmonton. Frankly, Buffalo was hesitant to give Briere and/or Dury money simply because they wanted to have this kind of money available to lock-up Vanek. As expected, Buffalo quickly scheduled a press conference to announce that they had, in fact, decided to match the deal.

The reality of it is that the Oilers didn't expect to get Vanek, but it could mean that they fully intend to pursue another RFA such as Zach Parise in New Jersey. Could this have been a message to the Devils or other teams with valuable RFAs? A way of saying "we're coming after your guys full force so you better have the cap space to match?" It could also be a scare tactic since rumors have been rampant that the Oilers are trying to pull off a big trade after flopping in free agency. This could be used to tell, for example, the Devils that they'll need to listen to the Oilers trade requests for Elias. If they don't, they'll stand to lose Parise since Edmonton, without Elias, will have the cap space to make an offer that the Devils flat out can't afford to match. All in all, Kevin Lowe is up to something in Edmonton and I, for one, am loving it.

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