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Face of Sabres could change today Front office blundered in its contract negotiations

The sad part is thinking about them in the past tense, sad that the Buffalo Sabres ever reached this point with Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. It's not because Darcy Regier, Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn weren't aware of the circumstances. Heck, your neighbors' dog knew the end of an era was possible if the Sabres jerked around their co-captains.

Well, it appears your worst fears will be realized. Barring a drastic change between late Saturday night and noon today, both are headed for better streets in Philadelphia or San Jose or Colorado or somewhere. Their departures would mean Drury, Briere, Jay McKee, J.P. Dumont and Mike Grier -- a large part of the core that made the Sabres so lovable two years ago -- are gone.

Apparently, the Sabres didn't agree that Briere's 32 goals and 95 points last season made him worthy of a raise. It's why they offered him a five-year deal worth $25 million, hardly chump change for most of us but not even close to what they should have presented with a clear and honest assessment of the market.

Just so you know, Briere would have jumped on the $25 million offer had it been sent across the table on Jan. 1, the day the Sabres could officially negotiate with him, rather than 72 hours before today's deadline. Reports had Drury being offered some $30 million over five years, yet another lowball effort that would have looked better months ago.

Even now, Drury could stomach making less than full market value if it meant keeping Briere because keeping Briere meant making the Sabres better. It's all Drury wanted since he cleaned out his locker, a better team. And now, it appears, he'll get his wish somewhere else while the Sabres head back to sixth or seventh place in the conference.

My sense was the Briere offer was more insulting to Drury, strangely enough, than it was to Briere. It explained plenty about the Sabres' lack of commitment to winning it all, plenty about Drury's commitment to principle. Do his teammate wrong, and you're doing him wrong, too. Good man, Drury, a treasure you want on your team.

Buffalo's never had a player quite like him, the Sabres or Bills. He's a talented player, a team guy to the bone, a leader, a winner, a gamer, Derek Jeter with a playoff beard. You don't let players like them slip away, and you definitely don't make it easy for them.

Talks with both players should have started after last season or at the latest immediately after the playoffs, not in the final days leading into the free-agent signing period. The Sabres came up so short for so long that it became simple for both. You can't blame them for leaving on lame terms, a shame because both wanted to stay.

What the Sabres have accomplished is rather incredible, really. It's not easy for a Presidents' Trophy winner to alienate a large portion of their fan base in six weeks, but the Sabres have. Lately, it's been difficult walking 10 feet without someone begging for answers. Here you go, in four words:

The Sabres blew it.

It will be interesting to see how Regier spins this one. It's become tiresome listening to him say how leaving ultimately is up to the player, a shallow attempt to take the organization and its owner off the hook, when blame actually falls on them. Drury more than any player in any sport in recent memory personified the values of this town. He showed up for work, gave an honest effort, embraced his job and led by example.

Of course, that didn't get Michael Peca very far before they traded him. And once Dominik Hasek realized what happened with Peca, he bullied his way out. See, players pay close attention to their teammates. No matter what Ryan Miller says publicly, the Drury-Briere saga can't be going over real well in the Sabres' dressing room. We'll check back with Miller in a few years, before he signs with Detroit.

Please, spare me the bit about the Sabres having a decent team with a sensible payroll, which comes with a hint that mediocrity somehow became acceptable. People were already rationalizing how the Sabres would be fine, how somebody will emerge as leaders and scorers, how they'll still be entertaining.

It's a loser's mentality, fine for Little League baseball and club soccer but not professional sports, not when every team is working under the same salary-cap restrictions.

McKee would have signed a four-year deal worth $9.5 million, Rhett Warrener money, in a millisecond. Regier allowed him to walk into unrestricted free agency and sign a four-year deal worth $16 million. His answer was grossly overpaying for Jaroslav Spacek. Need we revisit prospect Michael Zigomanis' paperwork getting stuck in a fax machine and the Sabres missing a deadline or, lest we forget, one Robert Corkum?

What we're talking here is a pattern of behavior. Here's a fair question: Did Regier get a raise on his two-year contract extension before he failed to offer Briere one?

Funny, but Grier could see what was coming. It's why he hit the bricks last summer for the same money. He didn't like the way Buffalo did business, so he left a good friend and teammate in Drury behind for the same money in San Jose. If the Sabres weren't attractive enough to keep a third-line winger in Grier, they can forget about drawing other good players without -- get this one -- overpaying them.

It's not just Regier. Golisano and Quinn are responsible for this mess, too. You don't become a self-made billionaire like Golisano without working yourself to exhaustion and understanding industry trends. He knows the importance of swinging a deal at the right time. He invested some $60 million in the Sabres and watched their value double in five years. Quick math says it amounts to $12 million a year. Briere and Drury could have been had for about $13 million.

And yet the Sabres, it appeared, are about to lose two major assets. Golisano should know that his profits are tied directly to fans. Good thing the season-ticket base is strong for next year, but we'll see where it is in a couple years if the Sabres continue collecting and not properly investing in the very players who created their appeal.

Drury for weeks hasn't been available. He's not one to publicly blast the organization even when he has every right. He's the kind of guy who keeps quiet unless he's saying something positive. In this case, his silence spoke volumes.


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