Before Kevin Lowe ignited an epic public feud with Brian Burke by signing restricted free agent Dustin Penner in the summer of 2007, the Oilers general manager had his eyes on a much larger prize -- Buffalo Sabres restricted free agent Thomas Vanek. In early July, 2007, the Oilers signed the 23-year-old Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet. Had Buffalo refused to match the offer, it would have received four first-round picks as compensation. Tempting. But not tempting enough.
The Sabres didn't hesitate to match the offer, and as intriguing as four first-round picks would have been, it's becoming obvious that Buffalo made the right call, something Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News pointed out back in December.
If the Sabres were to decide today that they were putting Vanek on the trade block, it's doubtful that they would get four first-round picks offered in return. If we assume that the Oilers finish with the same record the past two seasons with Vanek (a bad assumption since Vanek would have likely made them a better team), the Sabres would have had a pair of top-15 picks, plus Edmonton's next two first-rounders at their disposal. Again, it's tempting, but it's not a move the Sabres could have considered. When you have a young, elite goal-scorer in your possession, it's wise to keep him.
Granted, the Sabres haven't made the playoffs the past two seasons with Vanek, but they would have had a fighting chance this year had he not missed nine games with a broken jaw. The Sabres were 3-5-1 without him.
Draft Year: 2003
One of only three NHL players to be born in Vienna, Austria (only five Austrian-born players have ever played in the NHL, for what it's worth), Vanek went fifth overall in 2003.
Why He's On My List
An underrated defensive player and gifted goal-scorer, Vanek might be one of the players I look back on when this is over and question whether or not he's too low. He's already posted a pair of 40-goal seasons, finishing in the top-five twice, while his .45 goals-per-game average is right between Keith Tkachuk and Marian Hossa on the active list.
Obligatory YouTube Video