Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Free Agency Matchmaker: Chris Drury

Chris Drury might like his teammates in Buffalo more than we could have imagined.

The start of free agency (July 1) is almost upon us, and to help shed some light on the subject, BMR brings you the second in a series of profiles chronicling this summer's free agent class. Next up is Buffalo's Chris Drury.

We have all heard the story -- it's brought up almost every year during the playoffs -- of Chris Drury's exploits in Little League Baseball. What we don't hear enough about is Drury's aptitude for the game of hockey. Until he became the star of the show in Buffalo, fans didn't hear a whole lot about him, as he played in the shadows of Forsberg, Sakic and Roy in Colorado. Believe it or not, the guy kneeling in the picture above is actually a very talented hockey player.

This is one of those player-uniform combinations that really makes my head hurt. In five years no one will believe it ever happened.

Drury doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but he has been a solid and steady performer throughout his NHL career, even during the odd year that he spent in Calgary (remember that?). He is not a prolific scorer, as he has averaged only .75 points per game during his eight year career. His plus/minus isn't amazing, notching a career high of +9 in his rookie season and he only put up a +1 this season, while teammate Thomas Vanek led the league at +47.

What the 30-year old Drury does bring to the table are his intangibles; his work ethic, guts, grit, determination and a whole boatload of leadership. Drury has all the things that you want in a leader and excels at all the things you cannot quantify. For the past two seasons Drury has been the face of a team that has no big name superstars. He has co-captained the Sabres with Donald Briere since the lockout, and has been a vital part of the team's recent success.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match...
(in no particular order)

  • Buffalo Sabres: The prevailing notion around the league is that the Sabres are going to have to make a very serious choice this summer; do they sign Briere, Drury or neither? Drury is undoubtedly the cheaper option, but Briere provides an irreplaceable amount of offense. Chances are that the Sabres are going to opt for Briere and his 95 points, but his price tag is going to be steep. Briere made $5 million this year, a year in which he topped his highest career point total by 30. Drury, on the other hand, made $3.154 million, and hasn't seen his number dramatically increase in the past few years. Nonetheless, he'll probably be looking for a raise big enough to significantly hinder Buffalo's ability to resign both captains (I'm not trying to imply he will do that on purpose, he'll likely try and do anything but). Case and point; Drury in a Sabres uni isn't looking too convincing at this point. Drury is a relatively young UFA and waiting until July 1 should benefit him greatly... Let's not forget about Thomas Vanek; a RFA coming off a career year, who will also be looking for big money.
  • New York Rangers: The Rangers are flying under the radar in the Drury sweepstakes, but make no mistake that they are a leading candidate. Drury grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut, only an hour away from the Garden and it's not so hard to believe it when Wikipedia tells you that he's a Yankee and Ranger fan. Hometown advantage? You better believe it. The word out of Buffalo is that Drury is going to be looking for a team that has a shot to win it all, and a young up and coming Ranger team fits the bill. As I went over in the Peter Forsberg article, the Rangers have the cap room to grab a big name free agent. Drury might just be the easiest one for them to get their hands on.
  • Colorado Avalanche: We might as well take a look at this angle, as Drury could certainly have a second go around in Denver. He would be joining a team that's talented, young, well under the cap, and could throw the house at him if they wanted to. That's going to be the key this off season. Who, if anyone, do the Avs want to throw all their cap space at? Even the rumor mill has been very hush-hush on this possibility. I can't wait to see how it plays out.
  • Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are another team rumored to be interested in Drury, and rightfully so. They've got miles of cap space. What kills this rumor for me? Their record and their history. The Kings were the third worst team in the NHL this year and haven't had serious success in a long time. If Drury is at all interested in playing for a contender, he won't make a stop in L.A.
  • San Jose Sharks: As rumors continue to swirl about Drury, the Sharks are rumored to be a major suitor. They have the talent to convince Drury they have a shot at a cup, and since Drury is in the $4 million neighborhood, he would fit better under the cap for them than most of the top free agents out there. He doesn't quite fit into the Sharks lineup, though. They already have gifted offensive minded players in Cheechoo and Marleau and aren't in need of a big name center. They've already got Thornton, Marleau and a heap of young players in the middle. It's also worthy to note that Drury's former teammate and friend in Buffalo, Mike Grier, is in San Jose. Grier might have some interesting things to say to Drury about the situation. We'll just have to wait and see if switching coasts is something Drury would be interested in doing.
If you put a gun to my head and made me choose a destination for Drury: It would be the Garden, hands down. Drury is an east coast guy, and I don't see him going across the country to play hockey. The Rangers have as talented a core of young players as any team in the league, and they have just as much money to spend, too. Recent success? Oh yeah, they've got that too. The impending free agency of Vanek and Briere in Buffalo will probably leave Drury as the odd man out. Unless for some odd reason Briere has zero desire to play in Buffalo, the Sabres are probably going to spend what money they do have on Vanek and Briere. Colorado is a wild card in all of this. Don't count them out of it, but they're going to need to make a series play to take Drury away from home.

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