Remember that Thomas Vanek offer sheet? Oh, what could have been ...

February, 4, 2009
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Just 18 months later, it's quite stunning to look at how differently things could have worked out if the Buffalo Sabres had not matched Edmonton's seven-year, $50 million offer sheet for Thomas Vanek.

For starters, the Oilers would have one of the NHL's top snipers on their team in Vanek and would have never offered Dustin Penner a five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet later in the summer of 2007. Penner, when he's not being thrown under the bus by Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish, has been a total bust. Vanek has been solid gold after some early-season jitters in 2007-08.

We had a chance today to sit down with Sabres GM Darcy Regier for a column on his team we are running Thursday; but, at the end of the 20-minute interview, we couldn't resist revisiting the Vanek offer sheet. And yes, Regier is darn happy the Sabres decided to match.

"And it wasn't just about that player," Regier told "With the situation of losing both [Chris] Drury and [Daniel] Briere [to free agency] and saying that we were going to keep our young players together, then seeing the offer sheet to Vanek -- it was a statement by the organization to say, 'Listen, we're not vulnerable.' It was important from so many directions, from inside the locker room to outside the locker room with the fans and making a statement to the rest of the league."

We can't help but harp back to the Edmonton angle. Not only would the Oilers not have Penner on their hands right now if the Sabres had not matched, but they would have an elite forward to play with star winger Ales Hemsky, something the local Edmonton media has pointed out as a major issue with right now.

For as much heat as former Oilers GM/now team president Kevin Lowe got around the league in the summer of 2007, give him credit on this point -- he was right about Vanek being worth the money.

Pogge time
Justin Pogge got his third NHL start in goal for Toronto on Wednesday night. The Maple Leafs called him up again in the morning from the AHL and plan to sprinkle a few starts his way from here to the end of the season, but he'll be sent back down between those assignments.

Pogge knows these spots starts are important audition opportunities for next season, especially if the Leafs end up trading Vesa Toskala. The tricky part for Pogge is he really doesn't know when the next spot start will come.

"I kind of find out the day before [this time] and I kind of like it that way," Pogge said Wednesday after the pregame skate at HSBC Arena. "You're not looking too far ahead and you've just got to focus on the present.

"I've never really looked at the schedule my whole career, so I like how it is."

The Leafs are wise to give Pogge a look. In fact, if it were up to us, we'd start him almost every game. The team is not going to make the playoffs and they might as well figure out whether or not the 22-year-old is the long-term answer in goal.

Leafs winger Jeremy Williams, who has played many an AHL game alongside Pogge, said he already knows that answer.

"He's a fantastic goalie," Williams said. "I know he can play in this league. I've seen what he can do for a few years now."

The sad part in all this is seeing Curtis Joseph play out the rest of his stellar NHL career in this fashion. The 41-year-old was left behind in Toronto for this game, and you really have to wonder if he will even start another game this season. Maybe he'll get the odd start near the end in order to let him finish it out with his head held high. He's a classy guy who deserves that chance.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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