By Ch2 Sports Director
We'll never really know whether or not Chris Drury or Daniel Briere or even Brian Campbell really wanted to stay in Buffalo to play for the Sabres, because all three bolted for more money -- make that a LOT more money. Since we all "get it" that the almighty dollar is king, no one has ever blamed any of the trio for splitting; no, that blame has fallen on everybody from Sabres owner Tom Golisano to managing partner Larry Quinn to gm Darcy Regier to trainer Rip Simonick.
We can rehash the gory details all over again, but we all pretty much agree that the Sabres, and by that I mean virtually ANYBODY who had input in the decision-making process, greatly underestimated the NHL market place and waited much too long to make a serious pitch at any of the aforementioned trio. They blew it. Then again, did they really?
Personally, I don't think Drury had ANY intention of staying in Buffalo, and virtually anything you read or hear otherwise is baloney. He saw the chance to play for the Rangers, a team he grew up following with his heart, and his mind was made up long before he played out his final contract year to become an unrestricted free agent. Yes, he said all the right things about how much he and his wife loved Buffalo and wanted to stay, but that's Drury; he usually does and says the right thing at the right time. Campbell? He also wanted to chase the money, because we already know he turned down more than $6 million per season to stay in Buffalo, although in fairness that was for only four years, and after the inconvenience of becoming a rental player in San Jose, he landed the big money he wanted in Chicago, an 8-year deal worth $56 million. I don't blame Campbell here, but the notion that somehow the Sabres "blew" it in his case may not be true at all.
At least they learned enough to get something for him, with that something eventually $3.5 million dollar defenseman Craig Rivet AND 1st round pick Tyler Ennis, who may someday be a terrific player.
Briere? The Sabres blew it with him, and I think hindsight points that out clearly. Remember how stunned the Sabres were when he was awarded $5 million in arbitration? Had they offered him somewhat less than that over several years, he'd still be in Buffalo. They won't help right away, but the recent signing of Nathan Gerbe and drafting of Ennis gives the Sabres two smallish but very fast and skilled centers who may eventually be as good or better. Still, we're talking future, not present, so back to the present to discuss Ryan Miller.
I recently had a high profile ex-Sabre tell me confidently that he'd literally "bet his life" that Miller will NOT sign a long-term deal with the Sabres, because the word is out on Buffalo as a cheap hockey organization that doesn't take care of its players. Suffice to say, Miller's words about having faith in the future of the Sabres were exceeded only by the proof that he meant those words, and that proof came when he put his name on a five-year, $31.25 million dollar extension that will keep Miller in Buffalo until 2014. Millions more were there, no doubt, had he waited. Geez, we may even have a new Peace Bridge and Bass Pro store by then!
Make no mistake, Quinn and Regier and certainly Golisano could spend millions and never create the positive buzz they've created by convincing Miller to literally bank on Buffalo's future. Soon, they'll arrive at a number Jason Pominville likes, and the deadly momentum of the 2006-2007 off season will be headed back in the right direction.
Yes, Miller must prove on the ice the faith in him is justified, and while the odds are good that will happen, nobody really knows for certain. What we DO know, is that Miller, already becoming a leader who isn't afraid to speak his mind, is being heard clearly by anyone that matters.
We all shudder to think what this coming season COULD have been like, had Miller also continued to say all the right things about wanting to stay in Buffalo, as speculation continued to mount he'd be bolting for greener scenery after July 1st, 2009. Maybe it isn't THE most important signing in the history of the Sabres franchise, but all things considered, it's hard to argue against it.