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Time ticking away for Sabres Briere off to California to field free agent offers

Daniel Briere landed in Southern California on Thursday afternoon.

That's bad news for Buffalo Sabres fans.

The club's scoring king was to meet co-captain Chris Drury, who lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and discuss their intentions. The NHL free agency period begins at noon Sunday, and contracts for both centers are up. As two of the more coveted unrestricted free agents, they're bound to field several lucrative offers.

But the main reason Briere jetted to the coast wasn't to talk shop with Drury. Briere journeyed there to be with his agent, Pat Brisson, so they can evaluate each offer together.

One offer they apparently didn't need to talk over was the one Buffalo just made. Brisson rejected the five-year offer believed to be worth about $25 million. Briere wanted a similar long-term deal last summer, but the Sabres weren't interested. Instead, he went to arbitration and was awarded a one-year contract for $5 million.

Although the All-Star Game MVP claimed he hasn't given up on re-signing with the Sabres, his decision to man a war room of sorts with Brisson doesn't bode well.

"It's exciting," Briere said of free agency. "I've never been though it before. If it gets there, I just want to be around where it's going to happen and where my agent's going to be so we can deal with it directly and not over the phone, relaying messages. I want to be there when the offers come in."

Briere on Thursday confirmed the Sabres, after nearly six weeks of indifference, had finally extended an offer. Minutes later, he learned Brisson had rejected it.

Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn declined to discuss any of the club's pending free agents.

"We're just not saying anything," Quinn said. "Obviously, it's a sensitive time for us, and we feel that saying anything at all would be a hindrance to the negotiating process.

"I'm sure it'll be an interesting weekend."

With less than 72 hours to go until the doors swing open on the NHL free agency market, Briere might as well wait and see how the Sabres' interest compares to the rest of the league.

"I wish things would have gotten done earlier with Buffalo, but they didn't," Briere said. "There's always a little fear that nobody's going to call and nobody's going to want you, but the point of going through this is you want to feel wanted, and you wonder how they're going to show it."

Briere needn't worry about apathy from other teams. He won't be 30 until October, and he's coming off a stellar campaign in which he had 32 goals and 63 assists to lead the Sabres in scoring.

It takes only one motivated suitor to extend the offer Briere can't refuse and the Sabres can't compete with. He alluded to a pair of former Buffalo teammates who were stunned by the attention they received.

Defenseman Jay McKee hit the open market, and the St. Louis Blues blew him away with a four-year, $16 million bid. Winger J.P. Dumont became unrestricted when the Sabres walked away from his $2.9 million arbitration judgment. He signed with the Nashville Predators for two years and $4.5 million.

"We hear rumors like everyone else, but until it starts you never know what can happen," Briere said. "I look at other guys who went through this before me, like Jay McKee, where offers came out of nowhere. I look at J.P. Dumont, and although his didn't happen July 1, he had a lot of discussions with many teams, and then Nashville came out of nowhere."

The Sabres haven't even bothered to contact at least two of their players on the brink of unrestricted free agency.

"Nothing," defenseman and alternate captain Teppo Numminen said Thursday night from his home in Finland. "It's been quiet. But it was the same way last year, so I'm OK.

"It seems like that's the way things work. That's the way [the Sabres] do things. That's the way they do their business."

Numminen, who turns 39 next week, said he'll definitely play another season whether it's for Buffalo or not.

Dainius Zubrus, the Sabres' big trade-deadline acquisition, insisted Buffalo still rates high on his list of potential destinations, but with time dwindling and no offer to consider, he's come to the realization he likely was a rental player for the playoffs and nothing more.

"Honestly, I don't know what will happen, but at the same it doesn't look too promising," Zubrus said from his summer home in Montreal.

Zubrus said he would like to remain in the Eastern Conference, but said he's open to playing almost anywhere.

"This is exciting for me," Zubrus said. "I've never experienced [unrestricted free agency] after 11 years. You just don't know what's going to happen, but there's just a couple of days left until I get to a time I've always looked forward to."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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