The Rangers couldn't have made a bigger splash to open the 2007 free-agency period than the one they made on Sunday, as the Blueshirts managed to land two of the very best centers available on the open market.
Chris Drury, left, and Scott Gomez were among the best centers available in this years' free-agent market, making the Rangers one of the NHL's deepest teams at the pivot position.
Indeed, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez were such prizes in this summer's free-agency picture that Rangers President and General Manager said he viewed both of them as the very best center he could sign.
"We had them ranked both as our first picks, as far as free agents were concerned, in our (organizational) meetings in La Quinta," Sather told the media on a conference call late Sunday night. "We really didn't think we were going to get both of them, but it just worked out that way. So we're pretty happy."
"Happy" would have been a tremendous understatement for just about any Rangers fan on Sunday night. Within the space of a few hours, the Blueshirts signed two players who combined for 50 goals and 129 points in 2006-07. Drury, an outstanding goal-scorer, found the back of the net 37 times last season, as co-captain of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres. Gomez, one of the league's best pure passers, had 47 assists in 72 games for the defense-first New Jersey Devils.
Drury is only 30, and Gomez even younger at 27, meaning both players have many of their best years in front of them despite their veteran status in the league. What makes them even more special, however, is their knack for scoring clutch goals and turning potential losses into victories.
Rangers fans are well-acquainted with Drury's prowess in the clutch, since the Trumbull, Conn., native managed to score a remarkable goal with only 7.7 seconds left against the Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Drury's last-ditch tally saved the series for the Sabres, who advanced to the conference finals before bowing to Ottawa.
Drury also made his mark at Madison Square Garden in 2006-07, scoring the overtime winner in a 3-2 Sabres victory on Nov. 26. That goal snapped a three-game winning streak for the Rangers.
Gomez's recent success rate against the Rangers is no less impressive. He set up both goals in a 2-1 Devils win over the Rangers on Feb. 20, 2007, and during the 2006 playoffs, he had two goals and five points in the Devils' series win over the Blueshirts. On March 4, 2006, against the Rangers, Gomez scored the first goal and set up the game winner. One month after that, he delivered a game-tying goal with 8:27 left in regulation.
Both players have won the Stanley Cup, with Gomez owning a pair of rings from the 2000 and 2003 playoff runs and Drury having been part of the 2001 Colorado Avalanche team that gave Ray Bourque his long-awaited championship. They were also both the NHL's Rookie of the Year. Drury won his Calder Trophy with Colorado in 1998-99, and Gomez captured the Calder the following year.
"This certainly strengthens our team up the middle, and we're really happy about it," Rangers head coach Tom Renney said of the signings. "... This might up the ante in terms of our level of character. We've gotten a little younger with some formidable players with reputations that suggest character."
One of the advantages the Rangers had over other teams in the free agent bidding was that these two American players both wanted to wear the red, white and blue. Gomez, who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, got the opportunity to stay in the New York area, while Drury, a native of Trumbull, Conn., who attended Fairfield Prep., is returning to the Tri-State Area where he will be closer to friends and family.
"We knew that they both wanted to play in New York," said Sather of the 2006 U.S. Olympic teammates. "As the negotiations went along, I never got the feeling I was bidding against other teams, although there obviously were other teams involved in it."
Even with Drury and Gomez signed, Sather said the Rangers have valuable room under the salary cap.
"We still have other people we have to sign," said Sather. "... We think we've calculated things out, so we're still in the good position."
Sather said that during the day on Sunday neither player was aware that the other was in the process of also working out a contract with the Rangers
"We called them both pretty much at the same time, and neither one of them knew about it until the end," he said.