The prevailing theme at Monday afternoon's news conference in HSBC Arena was that the player is the one who decides where he will sign as a free agent, not the team. That notion was repeated several times in different forms, leading one to believe Chris Drury and Daniel Briere simply didn't want to be Sabres anymore.
Turns out that couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, the co-captains on Sunday chose to play elsewhere. It even could be said they no longer wanted to be Sabres a few months ago.
But that wasn't always the case. Not nearly.
The Buffalo News learned a bombshell on Monday, and it will go down as one of the all-time embarrassments in Sabres history -- bigger than the broken fax machine, Artem Kryukov and the tumbling Jumbotron all rolled into one.
Drury last fall agreed to a four-year, $21.5 million contract to stay with the Sabres, a source with intimate knowledge of the negotiations told The News. The source said the sides made proposals -- the Sabres offered $20 million, Drury asked for $23 million -- and met in the middle. Then the Sabres either simply forgot or didn't feel the need make anything official. Maybe they didn't want to hurt Briere's feelings, but the Sabres never sent Drury's agent the agreed-upon contract.
After waiting for weeks, Drury instructed his agent to rescind their compliance because, the source said, Drury thought it was bad business.
What if Drury were to sustain a career-threatening injury on the ice? What if he were to get into a car accident? What if he were to slip into a prolonged scoring slump? With an unsigned contract hanging over his head, he would've needed to live up to those numbers (while getting paid a lesser sum) in order to guarantee its activation at some point. That's not the way it's done.
So Drury played the rest of the season with an uneasy feeling about how the Sabres conduct business and whether they truly wanted him around.
Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn and GM Darcy Regier insisted Monday they would have matched the Rangers' five-year, $35.25 million deal. In the process, they unfairly painted Drury as someone who couldn't wait to bolt for the door. The choice was Drury's, they suggested, and he chose the Rangers.
But he chose the Sabres first.