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Briere, Drury up for grabs when free agency starts at noon

Daniel Briere and Chris Drury could have new uniforms this afternoon.

By most accounts, they might as well be considered former Buffalo Sabres co-captains already.

The free agency market opens for business at noon today. Of the dozens of players up for grabs, Briere and Drury are among the five or six most coveted. They shouldn't remain unattached for long.

"There's a few teams that have asked where we're going to be at noon," Briere said Saturday night from Southern California, where he's meeting with his agent for the purpose of fielding offers together.

"It looks like teams are interested, but until then we can't do much. We hear the rumors and try to prepare for the different teams that will contact us."

Briere and his agent had better have call waiting. Same goes for Drury and his representative.

The Sabres, meanwhile, might want to consider who their next captain will be. Their vaunted team chemistry probably is about to get a whole lot more unstable.

Sabres never in running to re-sign co-captains Briere, Drury

The leading candidates to land Briere are the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens. The Los Angeles Kings are said to be interested in bringing both Briere and Drury aboard, signings that would make them an immediate playoff contender.

The Sabres appear out of the running to retain Briere, who on Thursday rejected their five-year, $25 million offer. The Sabres waited nearly six weeks to make the offer, a move that apparently alienated their leading scorer, as evidenced by the fact that he declined to negotiate further with the Sabres over the final days before the free agency period began.

The All-Star MVP was awarded a one-year, $5 million contract last summer through arbitration and should command a much higher salary than what the Sabres offered -- and for more years. He had 32 goals and 95 points to finish 10th in NHL scoring. He led the league with 68 even-strength points.

10 years ago: Sabres lose Briere and Drury

Briere might have accepted the Sabres' offer had they tendered it back in January, when teams were allowed to begin extension talks with players on one-year deals. But since then the bar was raised. Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk signed a seven-year extension at $6.7 million per.

Briere was asked if he would give Buffalo the opportunity to match the best offer he receives from another club.

"I don't know," Briere said. "I don't have any comment on that. We might do it out of respect for the Sabres."

Rumors regarding Drury's future are less rampant, although his name has been associated with the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche.

The Sabres' offer to Drury was believed to be five years at $30 million. He finished second on the Sabres with 37 goals and led them with 17 power-play goals, three short-handed goals and nine winners.

Drury has not returned several phone and e-mail messages from The Buffalo News over the past week.

Other unrestricted Sabres are forwards Dainius Zubrus and Michael Ryan, defensemen Teppo Numminen, Timo Helbling and Mikko Lehtonen and goalies Ty Conklin and Adam Berkhoel. The Sabres wrapped up a three-year deal worth $2.275 million with forward Adam Mair on Saturday.

Buffalo heads into the free agency period with 15 signed players who should be on next season's roster. They account for a salary cap figure of about $29.8 million.

Bucky Gleason: Sabres get a lesson in business

The salary cap on Thursday was raised to $50.3 million, but the Sabres had stated they would not come close to spending up to the ceiling. They were right up against last season's $44 million cap.

Restricted free agents the Sabres have yet to sign are forwards Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Andrew Peters and Daniel Paille and defenseman Nathan Paetsch. The Sabres retained their rights by extending qualifying offers, a formality that now allows them to negotiate new deals without a hard deadline.

News of Mair's contract was overshadowed by the speculation swirling around Briere and Drury the day before the free agency period opened.

The rugged fourth-line forward received a modest raise from the $675,000 he made last season.

"I'm really happy that I'm going to be back here in Buffalo," Mair said. "It's something that was always at the top of my list. Everything went smoothly, and I think all sides are happy.

Mair had two goals, nine assists and a team-high 128 penalty minutes in 82 games. He added one goal and four assists in 16 playoff games. His average ice time went up to 7:33 in the postseason.

The 28-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., sacrificed his first crack at free agency by signing Saturday. He forfeited his chance to see what he was worth on the open market so he could remain a Sabre.

Players have varied reactions to Drury, Briere departures

"It was just important for me to come back to Buffalo," Mair said. "When we analyzed everything we thought there could be better offers out there. But it came down to knowing the organization well and knowing they're headed in the right direction.

"We have a great opportunity in the coming years to be competitive and to win. When I had my initial talks with [General Manager] Darcy [Regier] and [coach] Lindy [Ruff], I told them I just wanted to play for a team that's going to have a chance to win. Couple that with the fact we're comfortable with the organization, all the guys, it's close to home . . . It's a good fit for us."

Mair will be closely monitoring this afternoon's transaction wire to find out what happens on the first day of free agency. His only desire was that Briere and Drury give the Sabres a chance to match.

"They're upper-echelon players," Mair said. "There's not a lot of top-end guys in that category. There's going to be bidding wars over those players. They've both been offered pretty substantial contracts. In the end it's up the players, and you don't begrudge the chances afforded them to go out there and see what they can get.

"I just hope they approach Buffalo with their best offer and see if Buffalo can come close to that."

News covers from free agency 2007, when Briere and Drury got away


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