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How Three Free Agent Signings In 2007 Have Shaped The Eastern Conference



Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Danny Briere have taken different paths


Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Danny Briere have taken different paths

In the last four seasons, one of them has 51 goals and 174 assists, the next has 62 goals and 99 assists, and the last has 102 goals and 116 assists.

The first has eight goals and 26 assists in 42 playoff games, the second has four goals and four assists in 21 playoff games, and the last has 28 goals and 29 assists in 53 playoff games.

They are now a center for the Montreal Canadiens, the captain of the New York Rangers, and an alternate captain of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Their journeys over the last four years, however, have been far different.

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Entering the summer of 2007, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, and Daniel Briere were the top forwards available in free agency.

Gomez had served as one of the lone offensive threats of the New Jersey Devils for the better part of a decade.  Despite a system that crippled the offensive numbers of many, Gomez had four straight seasons of 40+ assists.  He’d scored a career high of 33 goals in 2005-2006, and though he dipped to just 13 goals and 47 assists in 2006-2007, many thought he’d taken the next step.

Drury was a co-captain of the Buffalo Sabres and had established a reputation as one of the most clutch players in the league.  He had 17 goals and 14 assists during the previous two playoffs including a game-tying goal with 7.7 seconds left in regulation of Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals against the New York Rangers.  Drury’s postseason experience was the stuff of legend, but he’d also potted 37 goals in 2006-2007, seven more than his previous career high of 30.

Briere arrived in Buffalo a year before Drury and had carved out a solid career as an offensive player after a slow start to his NHL career with Phoenix.  Drury was “Captain Clutch” at the time, but Briere had improved constantly and was still just 29-years-old.  Drury scored more big goals than fellow co-captain Briere, but Daniel had added 11 goals and 23 assists during the past two playoffs for Buffalo himself.

The Philadelphia Flyers had finished dead last in the Eastern Conference in 2006-2007 and were in desperate need of an infusion of talent.  Prior to the start of the free agency period, the Flyers traded for Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen and signed both to long-term deals.  On July 1, the Flyers signed Briere to an eight-year, $52 million deal.

Later that day, Drury and Gomez signed with the New York Rangers for five-years, $32.25 million and seven-years, $51.5 million, respectively.  The duo was expected to join with Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, and Martin Straka to form a potent offense and turn the Rangers into Stanley Cup contenders.

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In 2007-2008, the Rangers finished fifth in the Eastern Conference, their highest placing since 1997-1998.  The Rangers cruised by Gomez’s old team, the New Jersey Devils, in the first round of the playoffs and were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Semi-finals.  Gomez and Drury finished No. 2 and No. 3 on the team in scoring behind Jagr.

Briere posted 72 points for the Flyers as Philadelphia climbed all the way up to sixth in the East.  The Flyers beat Washington and Montreal en route to the Conference Finals where they, too, fell to the Penguins.  Briere notched nine goals and seven assists in 17 playoff games.

Jagr, Straka, and Shanahan all left the Rangers in the offseason, and Drury and Gomez were entrusted with carrying the load in 2008-2009.  The Rangers managed a seventh place finish in the East, but Gomez’s production slipped to 16 goals and 42 assists and Drury managed just 22 goals and 34 assists.  The Rangers were dismissed from the playoffs in seven games by the Washington Capitals in the first round.

Briere fought off injuries all season but still scored 25 points in 29 games.  Philadelphia once again ran into the Penguins in the playoffs, and once again Pittsburgh sent the Flyers packing, this time in the first round.

In the summer of 2009, the Rangers recognized that they needed to add an elite goal scorer to replace Jagr.  Gomez had underwhelmed during his time in New York, and his enormous contract loomed over the team.  Rangers GM Glen Sather dumped Gomez on the Montreal Canadiens and picked up Chris Higgins and a prospect named Ryan McDonagh in the process.  Sather quickly made use of his cap savings, and signed Slovakian winger Marian Gaborik to a fat free agent deal the very next day.

The Flyers had established themselves as a growing Eastern Conference powerhouse.  Mike Richards and Jeff Carter continued to improve, and the Flyers also had prospects Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk on the horizon.  During the offseason, the Flyers acquired hulking defenseman Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks.

Gaborik notched 42 goals in his first season with the Rangers, but the club failed to make the playoffs.  New York’s window had closed when Jagr left, and although the team still had plenty of high-priced talent, it was clearly in a transition period.  Drury scored just 14 goals and 18 assists and it was obvious that his career was on the down-swing.

In Gomez’s first season with the Canadiens, he tallied 12 goals and 47 assists for the eventual eighth seed.  His numbers were basically identical to his previous season with New York, but Montreal had hoped for much more.

The Flyers were expected to cruise through the regular season, but Philadelphia got off to an awful start and needed a shootout win over the Rangers on the last day of the regular season to squeak into the playoffs as the seventh seed.  From there, the Flyers went on to upset the Devils, Bruins, and Gomez’s Canadiens en route to the Stanley Cup Finals where the Flyers fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.  Briere was magic in the playoffs and scored 12 goals and 18 assists, many of them coming with the game on the line.

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Fast forward to the present day, and the three are at very different points in their careers.  Drury went goal-less in his first 23 games of the season as he struggled to fight through nagging injuries.  He needed until the final game of the year to surpass Henrik Lundqvist’s four points, but then Drury scored his biggest goal as a Ranger against the New Jersey Devils to help New York reach the postseason.

Canadiens fans were not impressed with Gomez in his first year with the club, and grew even more frustrated this season.  The Alaskan center still has three more expensive seasons on his contract and managed just seven goals and 31 assists this season.

Briere was second on the Flyers in scoring with 34 goals and 34 assists.  Once again, he’s been huge in the playoffs and added his sixth goal of the first round in last night’s elimination of his old team, the Buffalo Sabres.

Three signings have shaped the Eastern Conference over the last four years.  Neither Drury nor Gomez lived up to expectations with the Rangers, and it’s a good bet that New York will buy out the final year of Drury’s contract this summer.  The Rangers did acquire a stud young defenseman for Gomez in McDonagh, a player that Montreal would love to still have.  Gomez’s deal is crippling for the Canadiens and one can only wonder how the top-pairing of P.K. Subban and McDonagh would have faired over the next decade.

Then there’s Briere.  There’s been no better playoff performer in the league than the diminutive forward over the last few years.  He always seems to be in exactly the right place at the right time for Philadelphia, and the Flyers appear poised for a deep playoff run once again with Briere an early candidate for the Conn Smythe.

On the one hand, the Rangers were forced to rebuild once the Drury and Gomez deals failed.  On the other, they could have had a player like Briere.

 

Posted by Kevin Baumer | April 27, 2011 at 02:35 pm
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New York Rangers VS Carolina Hurricanes
Saturday, December 20, 2014

  1 2 3 OT F
Rangers 0 0 0 - 0
Hurricanes 0 0 0 - 0








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