I was at a golf tournament a few weeks ago and a man wearing a Sabres hat started arguing with another man covered head to toe in Boston Bruins gear. The discussion wasn’t exactly next-level, the highlight being when the Sabres guy said Boston still ‘stunk’ and the Bruins guy said Larry Quinn was dumb for trading away his two captains.
This made me wonder just how many people have completely forgotten the circumstances surrounding the departure of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. To recap: Sabres brass essentially choose courting Drury over Briere. They lowballed Briere on a contract offer that was slightly more than he received via arbitration the summer before. They knew Briere was going to make a truckload more on the open market and gave him reason to go, then pushed hard for Drury, who eventually picked the Rangers.
Drury walked away. That’s something that seemed lost on a lot of people who blindly blamed the team in the aftermath. They gambled on 23 and lost. It’s interesting that the subsequent outrage was that the team lost both Drury and Briere, yet no one seemed upset that they choose to only pursue the former.
With Drury officially retired as of last week, you could look back on the events of late June 2007 and say the Sabres were wrong for choosing Drury. Briere is still producing at a high level on a very successful club.
What’s interesting, then, is that no one seems to want to make that point. Even with all the statistical evidence in front of us, I think it’s hard for many to say the Sabres should have picked Briere over Drury in that situation.
Why? Part of it comes from the ‘role’ Drury played on the team. All the things that people came to associate with him, leadership, confidence and timely scoring; with a Sports Illustrated piece fastening that rhetoric to his legacy.
Drury’s name became associated with the idea of clutch, his value in the intangible qualities that don’t appear on the stat sheet. Despite the fact that Briere also came through in big moments, or that this leadership and guidance eventually fell far short; Drury’s notoriety will always come from the moments in which he succeeded.
Where Briere’s scoring prowess could be replaced by Pominville or Roy or Vanek, there was no heir apparent for Drury’s leadership. If anything, that’s the most jarring aspect of Drury’s retirement for Sabres fans. Four years later, the Sabres have no true replacement for what Chris Drury brought to the team. And now he’s gone.
The Buffalo Sabres made the wrong choice. That much is clear now. Drury’s career, whether played out in blue and red or blue and gold, would have ended well before Briere stopped scoring important goals. Hindsight tells us Briere would have been worth the asking price in ways Drury’s utility simply could not match.
Still, the emotions Chris Drury brought out in Sabres fans is significant, if only because they have been gone for some time now. I will never forget the puck to the face Drury took in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals against Ottawa. The fans in HSBC Arena that day saw him leave the ice bloody, but we all knew with absolute certainty he was coming back. That he had to come back.
And he did, but sometimes knowing just isn’t enough.