Gomez and Drury signed big-dough, long-term deals with the Rangers. Briere went to the Flyers for $52 million over 8 years. Anything was an improvement for that dismal Flyers team, but the consensus was that in Gomez and Drury the Flyers had missed out on the real game-breakers, on two guys they could have built a team around.
Gomez is toiling for Montreal these days. Drury, with 1 year and 5 million left on the contract he signed, just ended his most frustrating, injury-plagued season yet in Manhattan.
Briere . . . well, hell, you know what Briere is doing.
Since the lockout, only one player has more playoff goals than Briere's 38. No one has more than his 89 points. Some of those were scored when he was still wearing blue and gold, but Danny has five goals in these playoffs against the team that let him go, the team whose only contract offer that season was for the same money he was receiving through arbitration, $5 million.
"Ten days until free agency, I thought I was going to be a Buffalo Sabre for a long time," he was saying at the Flyers' practice facility yesterday. "I never wanted to leave."
So there is bitterness, you suspect. This amazing stretch of hockey from him, shaking off larger bodies along the boards and in the corners, getting to the dirty areas in front of the net, has a revenge motif, you say.
"Nah, the people who didn't want me there are gone now anyway," he said. "There's no animosity. I'm actually happy for the players there and the fans with the new owner and the excitement he's bringing to the city and the hockey world."
There is no wink, no wry smile, no roll of the eyes. He is the anti-Pronger. He means just about everything he says, his repeated spiritual smile - underneath a healing cut - authenticating that as if a signature.
Truth is, this is just a carryover of how he finished last year's playoff run, just him making good on an end-of-the-season pledge that he would ramp it up once the playoffs arrived.
Buuut . . .
"It is extra special," he finally said of playing his old team. "But because I played there before and there's ex-teammates and there's a little rivalry there against some of your friends because you don't want to let them win."
He said this the day after he and linemate Scott Hartnell got into a shouting, pushing match near the Buffalo bench, a fracas started when a Sabres player, believed to be yappaholic Patrick Kaleta, taunted Briere and Hartnell about their well-publicized divorces of last season. Briere responded with two goals in the Flyers' spirited, 5-4, overtime comeback. Hartnell scored the game-tying goal.
One of Briere's was a patient slap shot on the power play, Briere closing in on the goal as if it was prey. The other was a dirty-zone goal, in the area in which he has spent so much of this series being cross-checked, sat on, thrown into the net. Sometimes it's intentional. Sometimes it's just an offshoot of his size disadvantage, him dropping, standing up, dropping again.
"What's impressive about Danny is that he has taken a lot of punishment in this series," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "There are big guys that can't hack the 81 games, and I'm not knocking anybody. I'm just saying that sometimes the wear and tear of the game gives you issues with your body that you can't really overcome."
Jeff Carter, who led the Flyers in goal-scoring, is out with a leg injury for the second straight postseason. Chris Pronger is trying to come back from his latest in a season of injuries, this to his hand.
"We can't afford any more losses," Laviolette said. "We're dealing with enough right now in here, and he is a guy that we rely on."
A core guy, you could say. Like Gomez was supposed to be, like Drury once was. Danny Briere, Drury's attentive student back then, even stood up and gave a spirited speech before the third period Sunday - much to his teammates' stunned surprise, and much to his coach's delight.
Said he wasn't ready for it to end like this.
Said they were going to take this thing to tonight's seventh and deciding game.
"I was inspired," Laviolette said. "I wanted to go out, but I'm a little too old and too heavy."
"I think everybody wants to be that guy," Briere said. "Not everyone is willing or knows how to put themselves in that situation. And that's where I learned a lot watching Chris prepare. You watch his demeanor and his focus when the game is on the line and you need a big goal. A big part of it is not being afraid of failing. There were times early in my career where you had that hesitation.
"Like if you just hope you're gonna win, that's when you're putting yourself behind the eight ball. If you think you're going to win, or you know you're going to win - it may not seem like much of a difference to you guys, but it is."
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.