The Buffalo Sabres had co-captain Chris Drury locked up for four more years. Then they drove him away with their inaction.
Drury and the Sabres agreed on terms of a new contract last fall, but the team suddenly went silent and never formally presented the offer. The co-captain, after weeks of uncertainty, had his agent withdraw the deal and started thinking about a new organization, an industry source with knowledge of the negotiations has told The Buffalo News.
The result of the incomplete talks was Drury signing with the New York Rangers and Sabres fans bemoaning what has become of their team.
Drury and the Sabres decided early last season to meet in Boston, where Drury's agent, Mark Witkin, is based. They discussed an extension for the pending free agent, the source said. The Sabres started the talks with a four-year, $20 million offer. Drury's camp countered with $23 million over four years. The parties agreed to meet in the middle, the source said, on a four-year deal worth $21.5 million.
Then nothing happened.
Drury waited for the Sabres to present the contract, but they didn't bring it up again. Drury withdrew the deal after a couple of weeks, the source said, because it was "bad business" not to officially finish the talks.
The Sabres on Monday, at their post-mortem news conference to address Sunday's loss of Drury and fellow co-captain Daniel Briere, acknowledged having contract talks with Drury in the fall.
"We had conversations with Chris in particular in the fall and unfortunately weren't able to come to a deal," General Manager Darcy Regier said. "Things evolved, things changed."
Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn said no offer was made to Drury until about a week after the season ended in May. He said Drury was the Sabres' top target and they were prepared to match any offer he received.
"There was a substantial offer made to him," said Quinn, who acknowledged making two recent proposals to the Drury camp. "We made it perfectly clear that we were prepared to meet the financial. They never once countered. They did not want to give us a number and ultimately said they didn't want to come back. They wanted to go to New York."
Drury did, in fact, get excited about the possibility of joining the team he cheered for as a child. However, the source said, Drury began to think about leaving Buffalo only after the Sabres failed to present the agreed-upon contract. The Sabres compounded their problem by not talking with Drury again until after the season.
The source said the Sabres came back to Drury with the same offer they previously had hammered out months before, but the market had shifted drastically in the interim.
"I thought showing a little more urgency certainly would have helped the situation, if in fact they did want me back," Drury said by phone Monday from New York. "I just think as every day and things got closer to free agency, it's another day to think about things and to think about what potentially could be out there."
So instead of signing a deal with the Sabres that averaged $5.375 million per season, Drury went to New York for $7.05 million per year for five years. He said he would have taken a deal from the Sabres in the $6 million range if talks hadn't gone so close to opening of free agency.
"I'm sure people are going to read this and say, 'It's easy for him to say that now,' but I would have," he said. "It just got to be so late that it just didn't feel right. You're in this position, so I at least wanted to see what was out there."
He liked what he saw in New York. His departure left the Sabres feeling sorrowful.
"Chris Drury, to me, is the epitome of a great hockey player and a great person," Quinn said. "I really wanted him to continue here. We weren't able to do that.
"I think we probably failed somewhere."
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