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Exactly How Valuable Is Chris Drury?

There's just so much going on during the Olympic hockey tournament — so many games, so many intriguing matchups, so many uses of the word "Edzo" — that it's taken us a couple of days to process all the story lines. Specifically, we hadn't paid much attention in this space to the story lines surrounding the five Rangers in Vancouver — Rangers who will (mostly) return to action tonight in Ottawa. But with apologies to Olli Jokinen (who basically won Finland the bronze medal in the third period of the third-place game), or Marian Gaborik (who played at half-speed to represent his country and will sit tonight), the most fascinating Blueshirt in the tournament was Chris Drury.

Before the Olympics, Drury was on pace for the worst season of his career: thirteen goals and sixteen assists, both of which would be career lows. Which means today, of course, he's still on pace for those numbers. Yet you can open today's New York Post and find an article by Larry Brooks entitled "Drury could be Rangers' biggest asset." So what, exactly, changed over the past two weeks?

To be sure, Drury played outstandingly in Vancouver, scoring twice and supplying superb penalty killing, but we think the difference between March 2 Drury and February 14 Drury is this: For the first time since he signed with the Rangers, we evaluated Drury solely for his performance on the ice, and apart from the five year, $35.25 million contract he signed just months after scoring that awful, awful goal against the Rangers in the 2007 playoffs.

Drury can be an extremely valuable player on a hockey team — the word "role player" came up over the last weeks, though he's capable of more on offense than that label implies — but that contract has heretofore hung over everything he's done in New York. He averaged 23.5 goals in his first two years in New York, a barely perceptible drop from the 24.1 he averaged before arriving. But it wasn't enough. For what he was being paid, he needed to match his career year (37 goals and 31 assists in 2006–07), every year. He needed to be what Marian Gaborik has become, which is unfair. He's not Marian Gaborik, but he's also not a liability, unlike some of Glen Sather's other overpaid veterans. That distinction makes all the difference.

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Photo: Harry How/Getty Images