Following the 6 game, Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006/2007 playoffs, many Rangers fans and NHL followers felt that the Rangers were close to being a serious Stanley Cup contender. After all, they had come within just 7 seconds of winning game 5 and taking a 3 – 2 series lead against the Sabres; a loss which may have proven to have been the difference in the series. The Rangers were almost on their way to the Conference Final, except Sabres forward Chris Drury had come through in the clutch yet again and tied the game with just seconds left. What was lacking in the Rangers lineup that could have propelled them further in the playoffs; how about a proven, clutch playoff performer, someone like………well, someone like Chris Drury?
That’s exactly what Rangers GM Glen Sather thought when he presented Chris Drury with a very rich UFA contract following that season. Drury, who had grown up as a Rangers fan in Connecticut, naturally accepted the offer of a 5 year, $35.25 million contract from the Blue Shirts. Would Drury prove to be a missing piece; a proven playoff performer that could help the Jaromir Jagr/Henrik Lundqvist led Rangers achieve even more playoff success? So far the answer has been a resounding no!!
I was all for the Rangers chasing Drury. Like many, I thought he would be a perfect fit for that team. A veteran player who would fit in well as a complementary player and locker room presence to superstar Jagr and one that would contribute when it mattered most; in the playoffs. Drury, who was approaching 31 years of age, was sure to attract a 3 or 4 year offer. Even though he had never been a top scorer, I felt a $4 million annual salary would be close to enough to get Drury to sign in Manhattan and a fair price to pay for someone that brought his intangibles.
I was SHOCKED when I saw that the Rangers had signed Drury to a 5 year deal that would pay him an average salary (and cap hit) of $7.05 million. That cap hit represented more than 1/8 or 12 percent, of the Rangers available cap space. Drury had been a very solid player but to commit that much of the salary cap to him seemed like a bad idea. And boy was it.
Now in his third season as a Ranger and his second as team captain, Drury is struggling immensely. He currently has 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 16 games; a pace that would work out to a 31 point season if he should play all 82 games. Thirty-one points!!! That works out to just less than 4.5 points per million dollars.
The NHL is now in its 5th season of operating in the world of a salary cap. Teams have had to learn to be more frugal than they could be in years past; teams like the Rangers for example. It is imperative for teams to manage their salary structure responsibly.
Today, the salary cap sits at roughly $56.8 million dollars. Drury still accounts for more than 12.5% of their cap space. He is spending most of his time skating on the 3rd line and killing penalties these days. He has gotten some PP time but has done little with it. It’s a real eye-opener when you hear longtime Ranger play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen constantly point out what a good game Drury has had on the PK.
I realize that I may be beating a dead horse but I still marvel at the fact that we are paying $7.05 million to a checker/penalty killer. That is not an example of good cap management. Drury’s struggles go beyond just a slow start to this season though. In his 2+ seasons in a Ranger uniform, Drury has recorded a line of 49 goals, 71 assists for 120 points in 179 games. Those figures work out to an average of 55 points in an 82 game schedule. Why is Drury underperforming his career numbers so severely?
The answer is he isn’t. Drury’s career line average is: 25 goals – 36 assists – 61 points. As a Ranger, Drury’s line is: 22 goals – 33 assists – 55 points. That’s a bit of a drop-off; 6 points over an 82 game schedule but not as severe as it feels. The reason why Drury seems like he is underperforming is because Glen Sather horribly overpaid for him.
Prior to his arrival on Broadway, Drury had never recorded more than 69 points in a single campaign while playing 7 full seasons in the NHL. Drury was remarkably consistent in his first 7 seasons scoring fewer than 20 goals only once and never scoring less than 44 points in any year of his career.
There was absolutely no evidence that Drury was on the cusp of a sudden explosion in production. He had proven to be a consistent and durable performer; not a game-breaker. His salary pointed to him being a big-time player and a critical offensive contributor. Drury was and is a nice 2nd line player that can contribute in all 3 zones. Sather made a mistake by paying him like a marquee player; a player like the one Sather gambled on this past off-season, Marian Gaborik.
Drury’s salary really hamstrings the Rangers. After a run of 4 games in which they only recorded 5 goals, the Rangers clearly could use some more offensive production. The question is where will it come from? As long as Drury and his salary remain, the Rangers will have no choice but to hope for improved production from the players currently on the roster or in the minors. Sather found a saint in Bob Gainey who was willing to take the contract of Scott Gomez (which may be even worse than that of Chris Drury) off of his hands. He isn’t likely to find another saint. Once again we see clear proof that Sather has messed up this team; hopefully not beyond repair.