That fateful summer, back in 2007, holds dear a day that continues to haunt 1 Seymour H. Knox III Plaza. The loss of a fearless leader, an unquestioned talent, and a key pivot-man is tough for a franchise to overcome, and that summer the Buffalo Sabres lost not only one, but two. Bring up the names Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in any Western New York sports pub and you’re likely to hear about not only what was, but what could’ve been. This week at SB Nation is “What If?” week, and so at Die By the Blade we explore what life would’ve been like with the co-captains in Sabres uniforms for a second term.
In order to proceed in this alternate universe, we’ll try not to venture too far from reality. Hindsight is 20/20, and since we have results from the past, we’ll put them to use. Also, sparing the debate for which of the two center-men would’ve been more appropriate to re-sign, we’ll take the ambitious approach and ink both Drury and Briere. After all, it would be smart for a franchise to keep its two top-six centers and co-captains.
All projected Sabres team results are based off of my GROSEK standings projection model. Draft picks are based on their actual drafted slot position. As for the long-term effects on the franchise, we’ll leave that up to you. Please comment below with your anticipated results.
Now that that’s settled, hop in the time machine and strap-in for a wild ride as we rewrite history.
July 1st, 2007
Buffalo, NY — Daniel Briere may be undersized, but he is no longer underpaid.
Just minutes into free agency, the forward has agreed to return to the Buffalo Sabres on an eight-year, $52 million contract. The contract is slightly front-loaded, with Briere earning $7.5 million in the first three years of the deal, and tapering off to $5.5 million by the final three years.
“Danny had many offers and lots of interest out there,” said Pat Brisson, his agent. “With what the team has built over the last couple seasons, he felt a return to Buffalo. was best.”
This marks an important signing for the Sabres, as both Briere and fellow captain Chris Drury had been made available in free agency. Losing both would’ve surely been a dagger to the hearts in Sabreland.
Briere was expected to cash-in on the open market, so when asked why his client opted to stay with the Sabres, Brisson replied, “unfinished business.”
July 1st, 2007
Buffalo, NY — The band is back together, as Chris Drury and the Buffalo Sabres agree on a five-year, $35.25 million contract.
Drury joins teammate Daniel Briere in his return to the Sabres. “It’s good to have them both back,” said general manager Darcy Regier via conference call. “We made it a priority to keep our line of communication open to both players, despite talks carrying into the free agency period.”
With both co-captains returning to the club, Regier now has to walk a fine line with his other contracts, as the team is up against the $50.3 million salary cap. However, when asked, the general manager denied that his job just became more difficult. “Not with these two. They make my job easy.”
July 6th, 2007
Buffalo, NY — The Edmonton Oilers have left Darcy Regier with limited options.
The Oilers have signed high-scoring forward Thomas Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet. The Buffalo Sabres now have seven days to match the offer, but it is already being reported that the team will not do so.
With team captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury re-signing on Sunday, the Sabres do not have sufficient cap space to roster all three big contracts. This likely means Vanek will be on the move to Edmonton, and, in return, the Sabres will acquire the Oilers’ four first-round draft picks over the next four consecutive years.
October 5th, 2007
Buffalo, NY — Tonight’s lines and defense pairs for the Buffalo Sabres as they host the New York Islanders from the morning skate of the home opener:
Jochen Hecht - Daniel Briere - Jason Pominville
Derek Roy - Chris Drury - Drew Stafford
Daniel Paille - Tim Connolly - Maxim Afinogenov
Andrew Peters - Paul Gaustad - Adam Mair
Henrik Tallinder - Toni Lydman
Brian Campbell - Jaroslav Spacek
Nathan Paetsch - Dmitri Kalinin
Scratched: Ales Kotalik (injured), Teppo Numminen (medical)
Ryan Miller is the first goaltender off the ice, likely meaning he will be in between the pipes tonight.
February 26th, 2008
Buffalo, NY — The trade deadline has come and passed, and the question of whether Brian Campbell will remain in Buffalo has been answered.
The Sabres have opted not to move their top scoring defenseman in hopes of another deep playoff run, despite the defenseman’s contract due to expire after the season. Campbell was the subject of many rumors over the past few weeks, but nothing materialized by the three o’clock deadline.
June 20th, 2008
Ottawa, Ontario — The Buffalo Sabres have made the most of their two first round picks.
Entering the day holding both the 12th and 26th overall picks, the team elected to stay put and selected defenseman Tyler Myers and forward Tyler Ennis, respectively. The 12th overall selection was surrendered to the team by the Edmonton Oilers after the Sabres elected not to match the offer sheet signed by Thomas Vanek. The 26th selection, of course, was their own after a second round exit in the playoffs.
July 1st, 2008
Chicago, IL — The Chicago Blackhawks ink defenseman Brian Campbell.
The offensive defenseman agreed to terms with the team on an eight-year contract averaging to about $7.1 million per season.
June 26th, 2009
Montreal, Quebec — For the second straight season, the Buffalo Sabres stood pat in the first round, welcoming two new draft picks.
The team bolstered its prospect pool by selecting Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson 10th overall with the second of four first round picks acquired from the Edmonton Oilers. Then, with their own selection at 21st overall, the club elected to draft defenseman John Moore.
June 25th, 2010
Los Angeles, CA — The Buffalo Sabres made Taylor Hall the first overall selection of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The benefactors of a decision made in the 2008 offseason, the Sabres acquired the winning lottery pick after opting not to match Thomas Vanek’s offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers. The lead-up to the draft caused much debate between who was more worthy of the selection, either Hall or Tyler Seguin. In the end, the club decided to go with the speedy left winger.
Hall was not the only draftee to don a Sabres uniform Friday. With their own 23rd overall selection, the team chose defenseman Mark Pysyk.
June 24th, 2011
St. Paul, MN — The Buffalo Sabres welcomed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the stage as the first overall selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
For the second straight year, the Sabres’ decision not to match Thomas Vanek’s offer sheet led to a winning lottery pick. To go along with Nugent-Hopkins, the club also selected Joel Armia 16th overall with their own slotted pick.
The future sure looks bright in Buffalo, as the Sabres have selected a total of eight first round picks in the last four seasons.
As you can see, this alternate universe has just so happened to acquire some familiar names, despite the changing circumstances. However, by re-signing Briere and Drury, and allowing Vanek to walk, the prospect pool proves to be much more stocked for an easier transition from “top-of-the-league” to a “retooling” phase.
By these projections, the Sabres would be much more equipped for a faster turnaround, should things have still gone south by the turn of the decade. Since Briere and Drury’s high level of play wouldn’t last forever, being able to restock the top-end forward depth with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins would’ve likely stabilized any impending free-fall in the standings.
So now we ask you, what if?