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Thomas Vanek likes being in Buffalo. It is where he grew into an NHL star and family man.

But like many folks in Sabreland, he’s curious about the direction of the franchise and whether he’ll be part of it.

Vanek has one year left on his contract, which has made him the focus of trade talk heading toward Wednesday’s deadline. General Manager Darcy Regier said he is open to offers on all his players.

“I would definitely like to stay,” said Vanek, who missed Sunday night’s 2-0 loss to Boston with an upper-body injury. “I like this area. I’m comfortable where I’m at, but I would like to know what the direction is. The next four days I can’t control, then after that we’ll see what Darcy and [owner] Terry [Pegula] and them have to say.”

Vanek is the Sabres’ runaway leader in goals and points despite missing seven games with injuries. They could have used his offensive talent against the Bruins. Both teams were playing on the second night of back-to-back games, and they struggled to a 0-0 tie through 50 minutes.

David Krejci finally broke the deadlock with 7:06 to play, getting free from Andrej Sekera in the crease to whack home a rebound. Nathan Horton sent the crowd of 19,027 streaming toward the First Niagara Center exits with 4:16 left when he tipped home a pass by Krejci.

The setback was the fourth straight for the Sabres (0-2-2), who fell to 13th place in the Eastern Conference.

“We played a complete game, had a couple mistakes there at the end,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “That was one of our best team games since I’ve been here. Period. Hands down.”

Rolston made the Sabres’ most noise with a line change. Cody Hodgson, who had centered the top line nearly all season, was dropped to the fourth and skated alongside wingers Patrick Kaleta and John Scott. Rolston said it was for defensive reasons.

The outcome doesn’t make the Sabres’ decision on Vanek any easier. He is the type of player a team builds around – or deals for significant assets if it wants an overhaul.

“I think every year you think about that, but obviously this year probably more than any other year because of the position we’re in and one year left on my contract,” Vanek said. “Obviously, you think about it, but at the same time it’s part of the business. If it happens, it happens, and we’ll move on.

“You never like to. I’ve raised my family here. I enjoy where I’m at, but I understand the situation. I’m not sure. I haven’t talked to anyone about what their plan is. Again, it’s something you can’t control. Again, if it happens, you move on and you help whatever team you move on to. If you stay here, I’ll do the same things I’ve been doing for the last eight years.”

The Sabres went to the Eastern Conference finals in Vanek’s first two seasons, 2005-06 and ’06-07. They missed the playoffs the next two while trying to rebuild after Chris Drury and Daniel Briere departed.

Vanek’s not sure he’d be willing to stick around for another extended rebuild.

“Any player wants to know that,” the 29-year-old said. “I’m sure nobody likes to call their team a rebuilding team, but if that’s the phase, if it’s one year that’s OK, but if it’s a two-, three-year plan again, you would probably look the other direction.

“To me, there’s different types of rebuild. There’s rebuilds like the Penguins and the Oilers did, consistently draft in the top five, or you go and get good players through trades, free agency and rebuild your team quicker in the summer. ... Rebuild is not a bad word, it’s just which direction you choose to go.”

The Sabres need to decide soon. They visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday in the final game before the deadline, and the latest loss was further evidence they have a ways to go to compete with teams like Boston.

“They’re patient and confident,” Rolston said. “They went into the third period with that in mind, and we still have to get there.”



email: jvogl@buffnews.com