BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Daniel Briere has heard the rumours that he's heading to Nashville, Philadelphia or Montreal, ready to cash in once free agency opens in July.
Not so fast, the Buffalo Sabres co-captain said Monday, after he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers.
"My first, my probably biggest wish right now would be to be a part of this team," Briere said. "The Sabres, if they're interested, they're going to have the first chance. They're going to have the best chance. And if that doesn't work out, then we'll start looking at different options."
Briere, coming off a career season, said he'd be willing to sign for less than what he might be worth on the open market to stay in Buffalo.
"I like it here. We like the community. We've made it our home, even in the off-season," he said. "Yeah, that's worth some money to stay here. But I'm just looking for it to be fair."
What's fair is the question, because Briere is projected to attract offers well above the team-high US$5-million, one-year deal he received in arbitration last summer. He's coming off a regular season in which he led the Sabres with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists). He added a team-leading 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in the playoffs, which ended Saturday with a 3-2 overtime loss to Ottawa in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Another question is whether the Sabres can keep both Briere and co-captain Chris Drury, who is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is expected to command a hefty raise after making $3.15 million last season.
The Sabres haven't commented about their off-season plans, except to say they have time to determine their approach. The team is somewhat handcuffed after its payroll this season nudged against the NHL's $44 million salary cap.
Buffalo has a few other decisions to make with forwards Dainius Zubrus and Adam Mair, defenceman Teppo Numminen and backup goalie Ty Conklin also eligible for free agency.
The Sabres must also make room to re-sign forward Thomas Vanek, who scored a team-leading 43 goals. Buffalo can retain Vanek's rights by offering him a tendered contract, although the forward is eligible for arbitration.
The biggest concerns are Briere and Drury, who have been the team's leaders for the past three seasons and are credited for helping the Sabres reach the conference finals for the past two years.
Drury said he wants to be back, but said it's too early to discuss his future.
Drury is also coming off a strong season in which he registered career-highs in goals (37), including nine game-winners, and points (69). Of his eight playoff goals, three were game-winners, giving him 15 for his career.
Both Drury and Briere have expressed disappointment regarding the Sabres' policy of not negotiating contracts during the season. Drury was open to negotiations in January.
Briere said there is a misconception that he and Drury don't get along or are competing to see who gets the better offer.
"People were trying to picture it as me against Chris. And that's the part that was a little disappointing, because it never felt like that for me," Briere said. "I'd like to play with Chris again. I have the utmost respect for him. ... We're really good friends."