TAMPA – It was after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last month in Carolina and Chris Drury was headed to the New York Rangers' locker room to celebrate.
When he entered the dressing room, Drury soon saw forward Andrew Copp, one of his top trade deadline acquisitions. Copp couldn't resist getting in a little shot.
"Sorry about your first," was what Drury said Copp told him, referring to the fact the conditional second-round pick Drury sent to Winnipeg had become a first-rounder with the team's ascension to the East final with Copp playing more than half the games.
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The Sabres still have to add to their defense and forward group, including deciding what to do with Victor Olofsson. The restricted free agent winger could be looking at an arbitration award and/or a bridge deal that could take him close to $5 million a year. On a short-term basis with all this cap room, no reason not to pay him for now and then see if you're going to keep him or include him in any NHL-level deals.
Drury, of course, had no problem with that. Through the hiring of coach Gerard Gallant and a series of strong moves at the deadline, the work of the former Sabres' captain has pushed the Rangers far ahead of where they thought they'd be when they openly told their fans in 2018 they would be rebuilding.
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And the NHL announced on Wednesday that Drury was one of three finalists for the Jim Gregory GM of the Year award, which will be handed out at the NHL Draft in Montreal July 7-8.
Drury is in heady company. The other two finalists are Colorado's Joe Sakic and Tampa Bay's Julien BriseBois. They haven't moved on to many draft thoughts yet as they'll be vying Sunday night in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in Amalie Arena.
Had Drury's team gotten here, he would have been facing his old teammate in Sakic. Before he became a leader in Buffalo, he was both a Calder Trophy winner (1998) and Stanley Cup champion (2001) in Colorado.
The Rangers reflected Drury's tough-willed personality, coming back from 3-1 down against Pittsburgh in the first round and 3-2 against Carolina in the second.
"There certainly has been no quit throughout the season,” Drury said prior to the East final. "In both series to be able to come back, win some games on the road, take care of games in our building — a resilient bunch that really has had no quit from Day 1.”
Drury inherited plenty from deposed GM Jeff Gorton when you think about the likes of Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere. But Drury then brought in Ryan Reaves and Barclay Goodrow in the offseason and made a huge splash at the deadline by adding Copp, Tyler Motte, Frank Vatrano and Justin Braun.
"It's not surprising, he knows what it takes to win and he's very competitive," former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said while in town earlier this month to promote the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame's induction ceremony. "It seemed like he was destined for that kind of job for sure."
Drury has served as the Rangers' director of player development, assistant and associate GM and as the GM of the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack.
"When we look back on it more, I think that you realize, 'Oh yeah, that makes sense,' " Miller said. "So there certainly are some guys do have that coaching vibe. And some guys do have that management or development vibe. Chris definitely had that more quiet, contributor kind of thing. He's not on the ice able to do what he needs to do to control the situation. You definitely know he wants control in a different way. He did it the right way, he worked his way up and put the time in and has done great."
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There's a big what-could-have been on both sides of the ice for the Buffalo Sabres in the battle of heavyweights for the Stanley Cup.
True to his nature, Drury passed credit through his organization during the Rangers' run.
"Our scouts, our staff did a great job identifying those guys as targets and we were fortunate enough to be able to pull off the deals to get them," he said. "... They all fit in well and are used extremely well by 'Turk' (Gallant)."
Drury has a new challenge this offseason as all his trade acquisitions plus center Ryan Strome are unrestricted free agents. So the building and rebuilding will continue in New York.
Cup final reactions
• You wonder if GMs will want more clarity on too many men on the ice calls in the wake of the Nazem Kadri overtime goal that ended Game 4. I wouldn't want that to be reviewable by video because you'd probably find six or seven guys "on the ice" a lot of the time.
But you wonder if a 5-foot hash mark painted on the ice would give more clarity to the situation. Kadri clearly jumped on – and got in the play – before Nathan MacKinnon got in that area en route to the bench.
• Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy when facing elimination the last three years going into Game 6 after pulling out Game 5 Friday night in Denver: 4-0, 1.75/.945.
The Avs are 8-1 on the road in the playoffs and the Lightning are 8-2 at home. Something will have to give.
• It's amazing how Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper never gets any NHL coach of the year awards. In all sports, I've always believed that coaches whose teams are supposed to be good and handle that pressure by succeeding get overlooked far too often in favor of coaches whose teams make a sudden jump.
Awards or not, everyone knows the job that Cooper is doing in this series and in this run with a team that is very beat up and has played more than 60 playoff games in a span of just 22 months.
Amerks honored for Bills Day
The Rochester Amerks were honored for having the "most immersive game operations experience" in the AHL for their Bills Day game in March. The honor was given at the AHL Team Business Meetings last week in Allentown, Pa.
Players wore special edition Bills-inspired jerseys for the game with the iconic standing Buffalo on the crest and they were auctioned off, raising more than $32,200 for Golisano Children's Hospital. Players and coaches wore Bills-inspired ties designed by patient that were also available through the auction.
The first 2,500 fans received Amerks Zubaz-style sunglasses and game presentation elements included the Bills' "Shout" song and third-down train horn. Also on hand were the Stampede drum line and mascot Billy Buffalo.
The Amerks were also honored for being among a group of teams with an 83 percent renewal rate in corporate sales revenue.
Around the boards
• Peter DeBoer's hiring in Dallas makes the Stars a team to watch for a big jump next season. DeBoer specializes in huge first seasons, making the Cup final as a first-year guy in both New Jersey (2012) and San Jose (2016). And he probably should have made it last year in Vegas, were it not for that bizarre upset at the hands of Montreal in the pseudo-Western Conference final.
Does Vegas turf DeBoer if it sneaks into the playoffs? An 0-for-17 showing in three late-season shootouts proved to be the difference in the first playoff miss in franchise history.
• You wonder how many other candidates Winnipeg was serious about interviewing while waiting on homegrown Barry Trotz to make his decision. Citing family reasons, Trotz disappointed the Jets when he announced he wasn't going back into coaching next season.
• Can't wait to hear the fallout in Philadelphia when John Tortorella forms an opinion on Rasmus Ristolainen. He'll love the toughness but what will he say about the puck management and positional play? Yikes.
• Utica Comets captain Ryan Schmelzer, the former Canisius College star, has signed a two-year deal to return to the top affiliate of the New Jersey Devils. He will be joined in the forward group next season by fellow Canisius alum Nick Hutchison, who signed a one-year deal.
Schmelzer had career highs in goals (18) and points (32) this season as Utica won the AHL's North Division but was upset by the Rochester Amerks in a five-game series. Hutchison, a former college teammate who also played four years at Canisius, had three goals and four assists this season while splitting time between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Manitoba of the AHL. He had 16 goals and 26 assists for Wheeling of the ECHL.