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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.