Sabres’ Briere to test free agency
Vail, CO Colorado
BUFFALO, N.Y. ” Co-captain Daniel Briere has broken off negotiations with the Buffalo Sabres, deciding to test the NHL free agent market when it opens Sunday.
“We’ve made the decision to go to July 1 and sit down and seek all options at that point,” Briere’s agent Pat Brisson told The Associated Press on Friday.
The decision, which came a day after Briere traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Brisson, will make the player one of the most sought-after free agents. He’s expected to attract offers above $6 million, coming off a career-high season in which he finished 10th in the NHL with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists).
But Brisson didn’t rule out the possibility of Briere re-signing with Buffalo.
“We haven’t closed the door on Buffalo at all,” he said. “There’s no animosity; there’s a lot of respect there.”
The Sabres declined comment.
Buffalo stands to lose both co-captains this offseason, with Chris Drury also eligible to become a free agent Sunday.
The Sabres waited more than a month after their season ended before finally making Briere an offer Wednesday. The offer was reportedly a 5-year, $25 million deal.
Considered low, it matched the one-year, $5 million contract the nine-year veteran center received in arbitration last summer. The Sabres offer was similar to the deal Briere sought a year ago.
Brisson declined to comment on the Sabres’ proposal and wouldn’t say whether the two sides exchanged counteroffers.
“I believe it was an offer made in good faith from the Sabres,” Brisson said.
He also refused to criticize the Sabres for waiting to make an offer.
“Each team has their own philosophy in how they approach each situation, and I guess the Sabres decided to approach it this way,” Brisson said. “We’re not disappointed. We’re indifferent at this point.”
Briere emerged as a star shortly after Buffalo acquired him in a deal with Phoenix in March 2003. He has scored 92 goals and 138 assists for 230 points in 225 games with the Sabres, a big improvement after 70 goals and 76 assist for 146 points in 258 games with the Coyotes.
Briere appeared in his first career All-Star Game this season and earned the game’s MVP honors. He also produced in the clutch, scoring 10 game-winners over the past two seasons.
The Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens are among numerous teams with salary cap space expected to make offers to Briere.
Briere particularly has been linked with the Flyers, where friend and former teammate goalie Martin Biron plays, and the Canadiens. Briere is a French Canadian, who grew up two hours from Montreal.
“There’s no doubt that he has a lot of attachments in Buffalo, a lot of great memories, but that doesn’t mean it’s over,” Brisson said. “At this point, instead of negotiating, we have the opportunity to sit down and after July 1 seek our options. And at that point, he’ll make a decision.”
The Sabres are coming off a season in which the team won a league-leading and franchise-record 53 games and scored a league-leading 308 goals. But Buffalo was eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals for a second consecutive year.
Buffalo also is somewhat handcuffed by the NHL salary cap, which will increase to $50.3 million this season. The Sabres played most of last season at the $44 million cap and had limited room to maneuver in making an offer to Briere.
Besides attempting to re-sign Drury, Buffalo also must make room to re-sign restricted free agents Thomas Vanek, who scored a team-leading 43 goals, and third-line center Derek Roy.