Chris Drury In 2011

This morning’s news was big news for New York hockey fans. Chris Drury’s contract was bought out by the New York Rangers, terminating the 5 year, $35.25 million contract a year early. This frees up $3.3 million for the Rangers and allows them to make a run at signing needed parts (see: Brad Richards) so that they can pull their team out of the sorry state they’re in*.

Chris Drury, via the New York Daily News

Sabres fans have been weighing in on the issue on social media sites all morning, both for and against the idea of signing the co-captain of the 2006-07 President’s Trophy winning team. “Captain Clutch” is looking for a job, and the Buffalo Sabres are a team that is looking to increase its depth at center. Could this be an opportunity?

Drury hasn’t been able to top his last two years with the Sabres, scoring 67 and 69 points. His first two stretches with the Rangers were comparable, though (scoring 58 and 56 points) until injuries started to mount for the now-35 year old center. The 2010-11 season was not kind to Chris as he only played 24 games thanks to a fractured finger at the start of the season and arthroscopic knee surgery in February.

Still, you’re talking about a player who has won the Stanley Cup, who is renowned for being in the right place at the right time on the ice, and who leaves it all out there during every single game. This is the same guy who still sends chills down my spine when I watch his clutch goal scoring. And at 35 years old, he has a couple of seasons left in his body.

So…do the Sabres sign him?

The trick here is who else they sign. I’ll go back to last week’s deal with Drew Stafford…I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. I really, really hope that’s not The Move of this off-season. Call me a skeptic, but I doubt Stafford is going to regularly be a 30 goal scorer and I doubt he’s going to stay healthy…two of the voiced concerns over Drury. But I’m not here to crap on the Stafford deal (hell, now that we have him for 4 years, I hope he becomes a damn superstar), I’m trying to point out what this team needs to do.

The glaring weakness that came to light in the playoffs was the center position. With Derek Roy out, the Buffalo Sabres didn’t have a good, solid, play-making center. 2007 Chris Drury is a no-brainer to help bolster that position, but is 2011 Chris Drury able to be an effective #2 center? Right now evidence points to “no.”

The team has several guys that can “plug in” and do a decent job at center. Brad Boyes is alright…his production drops way off and his value at wing doesn’t justify the move, but he won’t hurt the middle of the ice for short stretches. I still vouch for trying to sign Tim Connolly on the cheap…something like $1.5 million. Gerbe is listed as a center, but again his point production on the wing is too good to stick him there. Finally, Jochen Hecht can “hold his own,” but he’s a defensive forward, not a play maker.

This Sabres team needs a top center to make a one-two punch with Derek Roy. If the price is right (it won’t be) grab Brad Richards or Michael Handzus. If a trade can happen for an elite player on a team with a lot of centers, such as Malkin or Marleau, pull the trigger and make it happen. Those players are out there to take, but the price tag will be high. But high prices be damned, take a look at what San Jose traded to Boston for Joe Thornton and tell me they paid too much. How many of the players traded are even still playing with Boston? We may think they trade too much for an elite center now, but consider how many 1st round draft picks turn into an elite player versus having that elite player. It could be worth the price.

By the way, keep in mind that the Sabres need to keep money free for the 2012 off season. Unless you don’t think they should re-sign Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis.

So let’s get back to Drury. He could fill a role that Rob Niedermayer filled this season, but he could probably chip in more points. Hopefully. Again, knee surgery is a tough thing to come back from. Drury’s price tag makes this too much of a gamble…the guy just got off a $7 million contract, so he’s probably not going to be interested in 4th line money. If they were looking at paying $1.5 for him, great. But right now there are bigger fish to fry, and his paycheck would be better spent in those places.

Sabres management is trying to move past the 2006 mentality. Fans have to do their part too.

* Rangers fans (notably Blue Line Station) have given me some feedback because of that phrasing. It’s not meant to be offensive, only to denote that the team has some work to do to recover from an underwhelming year.
I define “sorry state” as a team that needs some serious help to become a legitimate Cup contender. Yes, the Rangers have some pieces in place, but under-performing stars, a load of free agents that they have to get signed, and a weak free agent market will make it difficult. Don’t be angry, because I certainly don’t think the Sabres are currently in a better position than the Rangers when it comes to Cup contention…both teams have the same right pieces and the same wrong ones.
Mediocrity can be worse than bottoming out, because it is incentive for the team to keep trying the same makeup. That “sorry state” is stagnation, not having a bad team. Both of their last 3 years have been similar: 2 first round exits and 1 season missing the playoffs. Neither formula is working, and some retooling (not rebuilding) needs to occur.

In short, no offense intended, Rangers fans.

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Tags: Brad Richards Buffalo Buffalo Sabres Chris Drury Derek Roy Drew Stafford Eastern Conference Evgeni Malkin Fansided Free Agency Hockey Lindy Ruff Michael Handzus New York Rangers NHL Northeast Division Patrick Marleau Rob Niedermayer Ryan Miller Sabres Stanley Cup Stanley Cup Playoffs Terry Pegula Thomas Vanek Tim Connolly Trade Trade Deadline

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