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Blame rests solely with team brass

Right when you thought the news couldn't get much worse coming from HSBC Arena, we come to find out that Chris Drury actually accepted a contract offer from the Buffalo Sabres that would have kept him around for a tad more than $5 million a year. And what did the Sabres do?

Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Drury agreed to a four-year deal worth $21.5 million last September. He waited and waited . . . and waited . . . for the Sabres to send the contract to his agent so he could sign the bottom line. Days passed without hearing from the Sabres. Then it was weeks. Still, nothing. Finally, he started having second thoughts.

Captain Clutch is one of the all-time professionals in sports history, so he couldn't have been too thrilled upon realizing he was dealing with the direct opposite. Sources said he was troubled by their lack of professionalism but was willing to ignore their tactics because he wanted to stay in Buffalo. He never whispered a word about the aforementioned facts behind the scenes. His teammates had no clue.

See, Drury never operated that way because it's unsavory. Presumably, he didn't want to disrupt the Sabres while they headed for the Presidents' Trophy. It was their responsibility to make sure it was completed. They arrogantly thought they had him locked up. They snickered at suggestions they could lose him, never knowing unrestricted free agency sounded better by the day.

Now you know that the Sabres could have kept Drury and co-captain Daniel Briere for just more than $10 million per season in combined salary, which was about $3.5 million less per year than they received from their new teams. Buffalo would have easily had enough dough left over to address other needs, such as winger Thomas Vanek.

Why didn't it happen? Good question, but the Sabres made one gaffe after another until the possibility of keeping Drury or Briere collapsed.

Managing partner Larry Quinn and General Manager Darcy Regier claimed the two sides spoke, but no offer was made. They also maintained that Drury wanted to leave, but that clearly was false. It was a weak attempt to take pressure off of them and throw some responsibility on Drury, who wanted to stay but split town because he felt that he had exhausted his options in Buffalo.

Judging by the looks of Quinn and Regier on Monday, they were still in shock after losing their two star players. Heck, I almost wanted to get them a blanket. Almost.

Quinn and Regier added up Drury and Briere's new contracts and came up with $87 million, which was misleading at best. The truth was it could have been $46.5 million had the Sabres made a stronger effort to keep them starting last summer. But what's a $40.5 million difference among friends, right?

Let me make this perfectly clear, in case you might be thinking otherwise: Drury is not the bad guy here. Neither is Briere. This one is on the Sabres and nobody else.

Drury's professionalism and the Sabres' lack thereof, including their treatment of Briere, is what led him to finally test the open market. Even after the season, Drury would have accepted a contract that would have paid him between $6 million and $7 million, which is less than he signed for with the New York Rangers, but only if it meant keeping Briere.

The Sabres gambled, lost and will suffer whatever consequences. Quinn and Regier were right about one thing Monday. The sky isn't falling. The Sabres still have a good team. But had management possessed a little foresight concerning their co-captains and tweaked the roster to add toughness, the sky was the limit. The fact Drury and Briere departed with the Sabres getting nothing in return reeks of incompetence.

Owner Tom Golisano, who was noticeably absent from Monday's proceedings, has said numerous times that he wished everybody had one-day contracts. Well, it might be fine in the private sector, but it doesn't work that way in professional sports if you want to keep quality people and maintain a decent reputation.

The Sabres can expect to have a recruiting problem on their hands unless they get back into contention, a difficult chore without their two best players. In case you didn't notice, free agents haven't exactly been lining up to play here. Jason Blake, a 40-goal scorer last season with the Islanders, once was interested in Buffalo solely because he wanted to play with Drury. Instead, you'll see him eight times a year with Toronto.

Jaromir Jagr will understand in short order what all the fuss over Drury is about. He'll see how Drury approaches the game, how he shows up every day for work, how he never takes a shift off, how he proves heart and grit can go a long way, how he treats the people around him and never takes anything for granted.

And that was always Drury's greatest strength. He's a humble superstar, a rarity in sports. It's something fans should remember next season when the Rangers visit town. We'll see if management calls a news conference to suggest fans are booing. Everybody else will understand they're actually Druuu-ing.


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