August 19, 2011
Of course you did, because it was repeated ad nauseam about him on every NHL broadcast for the last dozen years, almost as often as his salary with the New York Rangers was mentioned during the final years of his playing career.
Those facts and his career numbers — 615 points in 892 regular-season games with the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche, and 89 points in 135 playoff games that included a Stanley Cup win — tell part of the story of Chris Drury, who retired from the NHL on Friday after 12 years.
But they can't quite capture what it was that made Drury such a valued player both in the NHL and international play for USA Hockey.
Sometimes we forget about them. We did for years when Drury went to the Rangers and didn't live up to the hype his salary created, which is why his Olympic roster spot was a stunner for some despite his history in international play (eight different tournaments repping the stars and stripes).
Drury was among the first selections for the U.S. roster by GM Brian Burke, despite having been cast as an underwhelming and ineffective player for the Rangers.
"We picked Chris Drury 'cause he's Chris Drury."
From Burke back in 2010:
Burke said here at Fenway Park after the Winter Classic, adding that the team will select a captain closer to the Games. "We know what he can do. We think he provides essential leadership - he's as good as another coach in the dressing room as far as what he provides. He was one of the first players we reached out to when we put this team together, so he's been involved from the get-go."
What happened in Vancouver was a late-career reexamination of who Chris Drury was. His efforts for Team USA had fans reconsidering his value and Jeremy Roenick(notes) issuing a "national apology" for doubting him. All that for two goals in six games.
But again: It's not about the numbers. Sure, his 20 goals were good enough to win the Calder Trophy in 1999, five years after being taken No. 72 overall by the Quebec Nordiques. And his 37 goals in 2006-07 for the Buffalo Sabres helped him earn that now-loathed five-year, $35.25 million contract with the Rangers that came to define Drury.
(It's also a contract that led to a buyout by the Rangers, which will cost them $3.7 million against the cap next season. Drury could have retired a Ranger but his agent said Drury wanted to attempt a comeback next season; clearly, his knee injuries won't allow it. Such are the dangers of these contracts.)
For Drury, it was about the intangibles. The leadership. The desire to do the little things to win.
Drury's legacy with the Rangers is what it is. Sabres fans loved him, and some wanted him to return to Pegulaville as a cheap lower line player. The less said about Calgary the better.
But there's always going to be a special connection between Drury and Colorado Avalanche fans.
He worked so hard each and every shift, never got big-headed (in fact, Drury was a perpetual worrier, always thinking he might be one bad game away from being sent to the minors or something. He was always chewing his nails, already more concerned about the next game than the one he'd just played and probably did very well in).
But after the 2001-02 season, Pierre Lacroix wanted to get back to a "Big Three" concept on defense. He wanted to find a good replacement for Ray Bourque to stack on the blue line next to Adam Foote(notes) and Rob Blake(notes). The Avs' brass thought Derek Morris(notes) of the Calgary Flames was the guy to do that, so along with him, Jeff Shantz and Dean McAmmond(notes), they came to Denver in exchange for Drury and Stephane Yelle(notes). It remains probably the worst trade Lacroix made in his otherwise sterling tenure as GM of the Avs.
From Mile High Hockey, which named Drury at No. 7 of its all-time greatest Avs list back in 2008:
It wasn't until his third season that he and the Avalanche "won one for Ray," taking the Stanley Cup away from the New Jersey Devils in seven games. In the post-season, Drury added two game-winning goals and 16 playoff points to his already impressive regular season showing of 24 goals (5 game-winners) and 41 assists in 71 games.
His contributions to the Avalanche, especially in that championship year, and especially his clutch, game-saving performances, have left a lasting impression on his former Colorado teammates.
Especially on Joe Sakic(notes), one of the most clutch players in the history of the NHL. In an exceptional article that ran in Sports Illustrated last year, titled "The Winner," writer S.L. Price quotes Super Joe: "You want a goal, you're in overtime -- you want him," says the 37-year-old Sakic, who holds the record for OT playoff goals, with seven [now 8 - Joe]. "He loves that time. His level of play rises."
So while the trivia became trivial by the end of his career, there is something wholly appropriate about Chris Drury being known as the NHL Star Who Won The Little League World Series.
Little Leaguers pride themselves on fundamentals, team chemistry, hard work and a deep well of exuberance and appreciation for the game that they play.
So did Chris Drury.