Sabres bracing for loss of two top team leaders

Co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere are expected to be leaving.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Sabres executive Larry Quinn had one last piece of advice to offer as the team’s co-captains, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, gathered in Los Angeles to prepare for the start of NHL free agency.

Landing the most lucrative contract does not necessarily guarantee anyone playing for a winner, the Sabres managing partner said Saturday.

“I think you have to ask yourself, ‘Do you want to win?’ Free agents who went for all the money last year didn’t win, with one exception, Scott Niedermayer,” Quinn said, referring to the Ducks captain who won a Stanley Cup in his first season with Anaheim. “There’s a lot of situations where it didn’t help the player in a competitive situation, because it affects the team’s ability to have players around him.”

It’s a philosophy the Sabres are sticking to, unwilling to upset their payroll structure with top-heavy salaries. And it’s a key reason the team that won a league-leading and franchise-record 53 games last season finds itself bracing to lose its two top leaders once free agency opens today.

Already announced

Briere, who traveled to L.A. this week to be with his agent, has already announced he’ll test the market. Drury, who makes his offseason home in Southern California, is prepared to follow. He and the Sabres have declined to discuss the status of negotiations.

Briere and Drury head a small group of top-tier players eligible for free agency this summer, and both centers are projected to command better than $6 million-a-year contract offers.

The top group of unsigned players is rounded out by center Scott Gomez and defenseman Brian Rafalski of New Jersey and New York Islanders forwards Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake.

Only Rafalski is considered likely to re-sign with his current team.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said he’s gotten the sense that there will be a flurry of activity today.

“I think it’s going to be crazy,” he said Saturday night.

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