Chris Drury: His team, his time
For many Ranger fans, the most vivid memory they have of Chris Drury is when he still played for Buffalo, and scored the tying goal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers with just 7.7 seconds remaining. The Sabres would go on to win in overtime, and send the Rangers sailing into the off-season.
In the summer that followed, the Rangers signed Chris Drury to a huge money deal, along with Scott Gomez. The two newest Rangers were slow to find an identity, with Jaromir Jagr still on the team and being the galvanizing player that he is.
That was then, this is now. Jagr has gone off to play in the KHL, and Gomez has been traded, and while the Rangers have signed superstar Marian Gaborik, this may finally be Chris Drury's team.
Expectations have always been high for Drury, but in reality they've been too high, a combination of the contract and the "C" on the sweater. Drury has only eclipsed the 30 goal mark twice in his career, and his two 50-something point seasons with the Rangers have pretty much been in line with his career numbers overall.
It looks like the Rangers have attempted to make Drury a little more comfortable this year, signing former Sabre linemate Ales Kotalik to a 3 year contract, which coincidentally is how many years are left on Drury's deal as well. Kotalik was also able to procure a no trade clause in his deal, so he and Drury should be together for a few years.
Some think the Rangers overpaid for Kotalik, but if he can rediscover the magic he and Drury had in Buffalo, the contract will be worth every penny.
In an interview with the Stamford Advocate, Drury spoke like a leader who expects better results on the ice this year:
"I think we can be a top-tier team, regular season and postseason. We're going to have to put in a lot of hard work and a lot of effort and a lot of focus," Drury said last week at the announcement of the Fairfield County Sports Commission Chelsea Cohen Courage Award. "But I don't see talent-wise why we can't be right up there with the best in the league. I think everyone kind of knows it already. Making the changes and bringing in the people we brought in and already having the goaltending that we have and the coach that we have, I don't think guys are going to be OK with seventh place again. That's not good enough."
If Drury is right in thinking that the Rangers can be a top tier team, he will have to be a big part of it. He was brought in to be a leader--more than anything else--and he has had problems in that role. Ever since he came to New York his leadership has been questioned. When Jagr was hear there were rumors that the locker room was seperated into two camps--one behind Jagr and one behind Drury. Last year there were whispers that Drury and Gomez had a falling out and Gomez was causing unrest in the locker room. These are not things that should happen on a team in which player roles are specifically arranged and followed through.
A team that is serious about contending for the Stanley Cup needs to have their leadership roles filled without any dispute--something Drury has not been able to have in his two years on Broadway. Although it is not fully Drury's fault that he has not been able to obtain the leadership role on this team there are no more obsticals in his way. There is no Jagr to seperate his locker room, there is no Gomez to undermine his authority. His authority is his and his alone now and he better take this chance because this team is depending on it--especially if he thinks they can contend for the Cup.
[Note by Jim Schmiedeberg, Joe Fortunato contributed to this report]