|Briere inching closer to free agency; Sabres yet to make an offer|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 23 June 2007 12:29|
Without ruling out the possibility of re-signing with Buffalo, Briere's agent, Pat Brisson, said Saturday the chances are increasing that his client will test the market once NHL free agency opens July 1.
``It's different now,'' Brisson said, noting this is Briere's first opportunity to be an unrestricted free agent. ``We'll see. It's getting closer and closer.''
Brisson, however, noted he's still open to getting a deal done with Buffalo.
``We haven't ruled out anything,'' he said. ``We're continuing to talk. We're very open-minded.''
Brisson spoke by phone from the NHL draft in Columbus, Ohio, where he had discussions with - but has yet to receive an offer from - Sabres general manager Darcy Regier.
``We don't take this personal at all,'' Brisson said. ``It's still premature. We still have some time this week.''
Regier declined to discuss where he left off talks, saying only that they'll continue.
The Sabres also risk losing co-captain Chris Drury, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. The departure of both players would change the core of a team that won an NHL-best and franchise-record 53 games last season, and lost in the Eastern Conference finals for a second consecutive year.
Drury's agent, Mark Witkin, declined to comment Saturday on the status of negotiations.
Regier said the decision to re-sign both players doesn't entirely rest with the Sabres.
``We obviously want them in, but players with pending unrestricted free agency have a lot to say about the decision that's made, and we respect that,'' Regier said. ``There's always the argument that you may as well see what's on the other side (of July 1). And certainly, players have that prerogative.''
Briere and Drury would immediately become two of the most high-profile free agents this summer, both projected to command deals worth at least $6 million a year.
Briere, who earned $5 million last season, is coming off a career year in which he led Buffalo in both the regular season, with 95 points, and playoffs, 15. Drury, who made $3.15 million last season, scored a career-high 37 goals and 69 points.
Briere discounted recent speculation that he's inclined to wait until after free agency begins to determine his future.
``I can't answer that until I get an offer,'' Briere said. ``And If I get an offer (from the Sabres) and it makes sense, I'm not going to get to (July) 1.''
The Sabres are somewhat handcuffed by the NHL salary cap, even though it is projected to rise to about $49 million next season. Buffalo finished last season at the $44 million cap, and must also make room to re-sign other players, including restricted free agents Thomas Vanek, who scored a team-leading 43 goals, and third-line center Derek Roy.
The Sabres have also said that while they plan an increase in payroll, they don't intend to spend to the cap's ceiling.