The Buffalo Sabres were coming off two Eastern Conference Finals appearances and a President’s Trophy. The Sabres were on top of the hockey world after the lockout. In a few hours on a summer afternoon, the direction of the franchise completely changed. July 1st, 2007 is a day that gives Sabres fans nausea. The Sabres were unable to reach a contract agreement with their co-captains and star players; Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.
At noon on July 1st Briere and Drury became unrestricted free agents. First came the news of Briere signing an 8 year 52 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. Later in the evening the gut wrenching news of Chris Drury signing a 5 year 35.25 million dollar contract with his hometown team the New York Rangers. It was assumed that Daniel Briere would not be returning to Buffalo after the 2007 season. The feeling was the Sabres could only keep one of the two players and the Sabres coveted Drury. Depending on which rumors you believe the Sabres began trying to extend Drury throughout the 2006-2007 season. Even according to some rumors had a deal agreed upon, but the paperwork was botched and irritated Drury. The Sabres were in on Drury to the very end. Offering the same exact contract the Rangers offered, but at the end of the day Drury decided to sign with his hometown team.
The Void Left Unfilled
Drury and Briere were the heart and soul of the Sabres. They were the face of the franchise and top two centers in a stacked Sabres lineup. Drury was coming off a career year with 37 goals and 69 points. Briere was coming off a career year of his own with 32 goals and 95 points. It wasn’t only the scoring that the co-captains provided the Sabres; it was their leadership too. The Sabres have been searching for a true leader of the team since their departure. Also the two centers always seemed to show up when it mattered most. Briere is one of the highest scoring players in playoff history and Drury is known for his clutch goals. When you look back at the playoff runs in 2006 and 2007, Briere and Drury always seemed to score the big goal. Here are a few reminders of their big playoff goals to bring back happy memories:
- Briere-Game 1 2006 ECQF vs. Flyers in 2OT
- Drury- Game 1 2006 ECSF vs. Ottawa in OT
- Briere- Game 6 2006 ECF vs. Carolina in OT
- Drury- Game 5 2007 ECSF vs. NYR tying goal with 7 seconds remaining
The Drury goal against the Rangers still gives me goose bumps when I think about it. I remember that game like it was yesterday and is probably the best sports event I’ve attended in my entire life. After the departure of Briere and Drury the Sabres thought they could fill the voids with up and coming players like Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford and new face of the franchise Ryan Miller. We all know how the story goes. The Sabres miscalculated how the new core would respond without the leadership provided by Drury and Briere. Roy and Stafford are good complimentary players, but not able to fill the roles of top line players.
What if Drury Stayed?
Like I said previously it was almost a foregone conclusion that Briere would leave as a free agent after teams going to arbitration after the 2005-06 season. Under Tom Golisano the Sabres were financially strapped and could really only afford to keep one of star centers. What if the Sabres get their man and Drury resigns? Would the Sabres have been able to stay at the top of Eastern Conference? I think they would have been able to remain near the top. Drury would have been the calming influence that the Sabres chased from 2007 to today. Also Drury would have been able to fill the top line role and let players like Derek Roy and Drew Stafford who thrived playing with Drury, remain in the roles that suited them. Drury would have brought credibility to the franchise as well. Buffalo has always had a hard time attracting free agents, but with a proven winner like Drury leading the team the Sabres could have surrounded him with good players. The stories of Drury being the quiet leader who just had to say “let’s go boys” to get the team going in practice. Also when he was first acquired from Calgary by the Sabres, when he toured the arena he asked where the pictures of the were. Drury was a great leader of men and knew how to win.
At the end of the neither Drury or Briere finished out their contracts they signed that day. Drury was bought out after 4 years and retired due to degenerative knee issues. Briere on the other hand struggled most of the time in Philadelphia living up to his deal. Briere was bought out by the Flyers two seasons ago and has played a diminishing role in Montreal last season and Colorado this season. July 1st, 2007 is a day that will be remembered as a franchise altering day until the Sabres can start to be an annual contender again.