We remember the night Chris Drury made his debut for the Rangers back in 2007 more vividly than we probably need to, given how the last four years have played out. The previous spring, the Rangers had taken the Sabres to a sixth game in the second round of the playoffs, after sweeping the Thrashers in the only four playoff games the Thrashers would ever play. Drury was a member of that Sabres team, and if not for his goal with 7.7 seconds left in Game 5, the Rangers would have taken a 3–2 series lead with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals on home ice two days later. Maybe they’d have won either Game 6 or Game 7; maybe they wouldn’t have. But for the first time in a decade, the Rangers looked competitive. (You’ll recall that their first post-lockout playoff series, against the Devils the year before, did not go well.) Not dominant, mind you, but competitive. That, in and of itself, was something to celebrate.
That July 1, the Rangers grabbed the attention of the hockey world when they signed Drury and Scott Gomez on the first day of free agency. In hindsight, we know these contracts were too large. We know that they were given to players whose impact wasn’t great enough to justify them over the course of the deals. But at the time, it felt like the Rangers were going for it — that signing two sought-after centers would allow them to take the proverbial next step. And this wasn’t just fans dreaming of such things: Here are ESPN’s staff picks for the 2007–08 season. Four out of five picked the Rangers to win the East.
And so that brings us to Opening Night, 2007. Here’s the video they showed on the scoreboard before the players were introduced.
When it got to the part where Drury and Gomez are walking up the subway steps — with the “B’way Bonanza” headline beneath them and the crowd cheering their new heroes inside the Garden — we’re not going to lie, we got chills. (Yes, because of a montage set to a Yellowcard song. Don’t judge us.)
And that’s not to suggest that Gomez and Drury inspired those chills equally. We’ve written this before, but we’d totally bought into the story line of the kid from Connecticut — the one who’d rooted for the Rangers as a child — coming in to lead the Rangers to bigger and better things. You could argue that Opening Night 2007 remains the most optimistic Rangers fans have been in more than a decade. The Rangers would win that night, but wouldn’t get off to a particularly good start that season. They’d enter the playoffs as the No. 5 seed (barely missing the No. 4 seed), but were hardly the juggernaut four out of five ESPN experts thought they’d be. They’d lose in five to Pittsburgh that spring — Pittsburgh instead was emerging as the true conference power — and they haven’t been back to the second round since.
Scott Gomez would be dealt to Montreal before the 2009–10 season — this turned out to be one of Glen Sather’s better trades — and Drury, who became captain on Opening Night the year after the above video played to the Garden crowd, would skate in just 24 games last year because of injuries, scoring his only goal against the Devils in the final game of the season. (That goal, at least, was an important one.)
Multiple reports today say that Drury will be bought out of his contract later this month, when teams are able to do such things. Back when the season ended, we looked at the Rangers’ options with Drury, and a buy-out (and the reduced cap hit that comes with it) seemed the most likely course of action. Drury is well liked by John Tortorella, and there’s no doubt his struggles last year frustrated him as much as they frustrated Rangers fans. But in the salary cap era, his contract was too large for a player whose on-ice contributions are mostly limited to killing penalties and taking face-offs.
Our last great memory of Drury — save for that goal against the Devils, we suppose — came during the 2010 Olympics, when we took great joy in seeing Drury play well. (More specifically, it was watching Jeremy Roenick apologize for arguing that Drury didn’t even belong on the team.) Drury won a silver medal on that team, but that Stanley Cup we dreamed of while watching that montage never happened — and never came particularly close to happening. The Rangers are a young team, and cutting ties with Drury will allow them to get even younger. Assuming these reports are correct, the process of (hopefully) maturing into a contender — and assembling the pieces to complement what they already have — will happen under a new captain.