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Satan and Zhitnik may not return

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Teams can begin negotiating with their free agents on Saturday, and the Sabres itching to get started.

Defensemen Alexei Zhitnik and James Patrick are the team's only two unrestricted free agents and the Sabres would love to get both under contract as soon as possible.

"If he's back in Buffalo, I'm sure he would like it," Zhitnik's agent Mark Gandler told the Buffalo News. "But my job is to get the best deal for him and make sure he's on a team that's contending and will give him the role he's used to."

Zhitnik had a chance to sign with the Sabres last summer but opted to wait until a new CBA was reached. According to the News, Zhitnik's former agent, Serge Levin, claimed the Sabres had offered a four-year, $16 million deal.

"I have no doubt we will get at least as much, counting the rollback," Gandler said. "So there's no regret yet. A lot of clubs would dearly like to have Alex, but teams need to see what the CBA is like and make a decision."

Meanwhile, with such solid young talent as Tim Connolly and hot prospect Thomas Vanek, the Sabres may not extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents Miroslav Satan and Eric Boulton, the News reports, making them unrestricted.

Satan would have made $5.25 million in 2004-05, and even with the 24% rollback the price might be prohibitive for a streaky player who likely would become an unrestricted free agent next summer anyway.

On a lighter note, Sabres blueliner Dmitri Kalinin is expected to pick up his player option for the upcoming season.

Options must be exercised by July 28, and Kalinin's agent, Jay Grossman, indicated his man would return to Buffalo.

"I know Dmitri is looking forward to the opportunity of returning and playing in the NHL," Grossman told the News.

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