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Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres ‘suffering’

Greg Wyshynski
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GM Darcy Regier warned Buffalo Sabres fans that building a Stanley Cup champion “may require some suffering.”

One assumed that meant more tough decisions on significant players, like the trade of captain Jason Pominville at the deadline last season. Specifically, one assumed that meant goalie Ryan Miller and winger Thomas Vanek would be moved this summer, as both enter the final years of their contracts in what should be a rebuilding year for the Sabres.

Yet here we are in the middle of July, and Miller and Vanek are both Sabres.

Regier did say he wanted to see what “the marketplace will make available” for the Sabres in the offseason. Now he’s seen it, and it sounds like Miller and Vanek could start the season in Buffalo.

From Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, on Regier’s chat on Friday:

As with every chat with Regier, the topic of Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek came up again and the response was much the same. Asked if he's getting resigned to the fact he may have both of them at training camp, Regier said, "I think that's fair. The nature of this business is that as we move through July lineups get more and more settled, there's less movement. Once training camp starts, things begin to change some again."

Regier said most conversations he's had with other GMs involve taking in money, a clear reference to the fact the Sabres aren't likely to be able to move the entire contract of either Vanek or Miller in a year the salary cap is shrinking to $64.3 million.

Furthering that, via Sabres.com:

When it comes to looking at making trades, Regier said that the cap coming down is playing a significant role and many teams are working up against that ceiling.

“The cap is a real big part of it. Any discussions that I have now involve taking back money, moving money. Money plays a very big role,” he said. “I think you can look at clubs you wouldn’t expect to be up and around $60-million-plus and they’re there.”

So Ryan Miller is a still a Sabre, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because (a) the goalie marketplace changed dramatically in the last few weeks, leaving few dance partners for Regier at the moment and (b) he’s a damn good goaltender and better than anything the Sabres could bring in to replace him in short notice.

Vanek’s a different story. He’s one of those players you’d have expected to be gone at the draft or in the early part of free agency. So why hasn’t he moved?

The GM said there would be suffering. And the Sabres are suffering through trying to move this contract.

As Regier said, teams want the Sabres to share the freight on a deal that ships a $6.4 million salary and a $7,142,857 cap hit onto their salary cap. (Thanks again, Kevin Lowe.)

Under the CBA, the Sabres can absorb up to 50 percent of that money and hit in trading Vanek, and from the GM’s comments it’s rather clear that his peers are asked for something like that as the cap drops.

He’s a superior offensive talent – it’s not a stretch to see him replacing Ilya Kovalchuk on the Devils, if a player like that is every replaceable. He can carry a team for several games on his own. There are few players in the NHL that can claim that.

Again, though: At what cost? His contract is inflated and elephantine; if the Sabres aren’t willing to absorb some of it this season, it’s nearly toxic.

It’s also a contract that runs out next summer, which begs the next question: What is Thomas Vanek worth as a pending UFA with a huge cap hit?

Would you give up a top six forward, a prospect and a pick for one year of Vanek? One assumes a Vanek trade would resemble the Bobby Ryan trade to Ottawa, and that cost the Senators a bright young NHL player, a prospect and a pick.

But they get at least two years of Bobby Ryan. Vanek’s only there for one year if he’s acquired by a team with whom he doesn’t want to re-sign.

As Regier said at the Draft:

“Unless you’re a highly competitive team, it’s very difficult to have players on your roster whose contracts are going to expire if you either choose not to or don’t have the ability to re-up them.”

Someone – COUGH, New Jersey, COUGH – in desperate need of that kind of goal-scoring might still ante up for Vanek. But this is starting to feel like a trade deadline move for the Sabres, when his cap hit and salary are pro-rated, the price for him drops and teams willing to rent him are looking to pay it.

And then he becomes a free agent and signs with the Minnesota Wild. Oh, c’mon, we all know it’s going to happen, right?

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