Can Chris Drury be Moved in the Off-season?
Chris Drury of the New York Rangers is coming off a season where injury limited him to just 24 regular season games. A broken finger and then a damaged knee that required arthroscopic surgery saw him return for the Rangers' last regular season win over New Jersey. He managed to play limited minutes in the first-round series loss to the Washington Capitals, where he mostly seemed to be deployed to win faceoffs.
The former Hobey Baker and Calder Trophy winner is an old, beat-up 34 years old at this point in his career. He turns 35 in August and still has a year left on his $7.05 million contract.
He's the team captain and played a valuable defensive role for the Rangers and the US Olympic team two seasons ago. He led all league forwards in blocked shots, had a very useful 52.9 percent success rate in the faceoff circle and was the Rangers' leading faceoff artist, taking 1,206 of them.
Drury was not only a key checking forward in New York, but he was considered by some as one of the league's best defensive forwards.
So Drury is a quality veteran checking center returning from injury with one of the most untradeable salaries in hockey. The offensive component of his game, never overwhelming, appears to have evaporated. All these factors will make him hard, if not impossible, to move
Two short years ago, the New York Rangers had three of the most untradeable contracts in hockey on their roster. After trading Scott Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens for a defensive prospect and sequestering Wade Redden in the minors, only Chris Drury remains.
Before they managed to do that, I would have guessed they'd never get rid of Chris Drury's contract. Now it's impossible to say that definitively.
I believe Glen Sather might just pull off a third miracle and move that crazy contract. That would give Sather and the Rangers a chance to sign a real first-line offensive center to play with Marion Gaborik and unlock all of his considerable offensive potential.
Assuming that premise, I have assembled a list of destinations, from least likely to most likely, I would look for Chris Drury to end up in.
The Rangers could decide to send Chris Drury down to the farm with Wade Redden. I think they believe he is still a little too valuable to do that to. It also doesn't send a positive message to the team when their captain gets sent to the minors either. It is a move that would free up all that cap space, and the team was obviously willing to do it before.
Though Chris Drury's no move clause really renders this option moot.
The Colorado Avalanche had a miserable year defensively and have over $30 million in available cap space. They gave up the most goals in the league last year.
They have already added a defenseman in Erik Johnson. You have to expect them to try to spend big money on a free agent goalie like Tomas Vokoun or Ilya Bryzgalov. They still should have room for a checking center, even at $7 million a year.
The Avalanche already have two centers making almost $10 million a year in Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene. If Peter Mueller can return from concussion and play like he once did, there may be no minutes for a fourth, offensively challenged, center in the mix.
They have also already picked up checking center and penalty killing specialist Jay McClement from St. Louis. He makes a fifth of what Drury does and wins 51.4 percent of his faceoffs. Really, is Drury worth that extra $5.5 million for an extra percentage point of success in the faceoff circle? Probably not to Colorado.
The Florida Panthers took some steps forward defensively last year. Dale Tallon added some quality checking forwards in Marty Reasoner and Ryan Carter. He added penalty kill specialist Mike Weaver to the defense. The team showed small but significant improvements in shots allowed, goals allowed and to a lesser extent on the penalty kill. This was all done for a minimal expenditure.
The Panthers only have $17 million counting against the cap next year. Tallon might be ready to dedicate money to a veteran NHL defensive center that he can pick up for a fifth-round pick. He might want another mentor on a very young team.
There is however plenty of defensive help out there for way less than the $7 million Drury will cost. The Panthers were also very strong in the faceoff circle last year with Weiss and Reasoner leading the way. They don't need Drury for faceoff coverage, and another center might interfere with the ice time they're trying to give to newbie Mike Santorelli.
The Panthers are a possiblity, but not a great one.
The Edmonton Oilers were an exceptionally young, defensively weak, thin at center, horrible in the faceoff circle team with over $25 million in cap space going into the offseason.
Chris Drury almost seems like the perfect match for this team, which went a league-worst 44.2 percent in the faceoff circle last year. At the very least, maybe he can teach some of the young centers how to win a faceoff in the NHL. The Oilers gave up the 10th-most shots on goal last year and tied for second with Atlanta in goals allowed.
Depth down center, both offensive depth and defensive depth, is one of a few critical issues the Oilers must address before next season. It's a good spot to start, especially with a group of young talented players who might spoil without a little more mentorship.
They can pay the money to Drury for a year and the benefits of his tutelage might continue to be felt for years to come.
Chris Drury has $7.05 million and one year left on his contract. As a player older than 26, the buyout costs two-thirds of the remaining value of the contract spread over twice the remaining length of the contract. That would be $4.7 million total, or $2.35 million a year. There is a complex calculation that determines what the cap hit is for this, but I'd assume it would be in that neighbourhood for two years.
Drury would be free to sign elsewhere. I think he's still employable as a veteran checker for a million or two a year. The Rangers would go from a plus-$7 million cap hit to two years of $2 million and change.
The more I see this solution, the more I like it. There's an elegance here if you look at the last four big salaries Glen Sather has managed to dump.
Marcus Naslund, with his $4 million dollar salary, was convinced to retire and return to Sweden. Wade Redden, with his four years at $6.5 million a year remaining, has had his contract hidden in the minors with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Scott Gomez and his four years at $7.357 million a year were traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Chris Higgins and Ryan McDonagh.
If Sather buys Chris Drury out, that will be four different solutions for four different big salary cap problems. Like I said, there is a symmetry and an elegance there.
The new team in Winnipeg has a billionaire hockey-loving owner. The team he bought from Atlanta tied with Edmonton by giving up the second-most goals against (269) in the league last year. The Thrashers have almost $30 million in cap room.
If the new owners in Winnipeg feel Chris Drury can help the team defensively, they won't blink at bringing him in. A one-year investment could be very useful in helping to settle a weak Atlanta faceoff roster.
The owners will want to make some high impact free-agent signings, so Drury might get shunted aside for some flashier models.
The simplest and most likely destination for Chris Drury next year is in New York with the Rangers.
Chris is hopefully still healthy enough to play a role there. He is still the team captain. It might be nice to have him play out the string in New York and just live with one of those horrible Sather signings.
The team even with his onerous salary has around $20 million in cap space. That will admittedly be needed to fill a number of huge gaps, especially on defense.
If I had to bet, I think he will be back next year, though I do like the buyout option. I think Chris Drury, if he can still play and stay healthy, could have the biggest positive impact in Edmonton. They have got no one with his skill set there.