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Washington Capitals' Michael Nylander, of Sweden, celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal on a penalty shot against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Oct. 13, 2008, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

Luis M. Alvarez

Several interested league observers drew parallels Wednesday between Eric Belanger's situation and another recent contract dispute involving the Washington Capitals.

In July of 2007, when Swedish centre Michael Nylander signed a lucrative free-agent deal with Washington, the Edmonton Oilers cried foul as they already had a written agreement in place with the player's agent, Mike Gillis, and had sent a contract to the player.

Having difficulty persuading free agents to sign in Edmonton, the Oilers GM at the time, Kevin Lowe, and ownership petitioned to commissioner Gary Bettman to have the decision overturned. Bettman, however, sided with the Capitals because, while Nylander had agreed to two deals in principle and received two contracts, only Washington's was signed and submitted to the NHL.

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The written agreement between the Oilers and Gillis, in other words, had no standing.

Two days later, in a move made partially in retaliation to the league's decision, a furious Lowe signed Buffalo Sabres restricted free agent Thomas Vanek to a $50-million offer sheet, which the Sabres matched.

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