Rangers' Gomez, Drury are centers of attention

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Scott Gomez beamed while talking about
how the New York Rangers gave him everything he wanted on his only
day as an unrestricted free agent.

Chris Drury then took a little something away, showing off the
winning form that made him just as attractive to the Rangers when
they went shopping for NHL centers on the first day of free agency.

New York introduced their two major acquisitions Monday, and the
new teammates immediately had to work out a minor problem.

Gomez and Drury both have worn No. 23 while winning three
Stanley Cups between them for their former teams.

When they came into the team's practice facility for the first
time, each had their name and No. 23 stitched on the back of a new
Rangers sweater, but they knew that couldn't last forever.

So general manager Glen Sather tossed a puck to see which one
would keep the number, and like he has since his days as a Little
Leaguer in nearby Trumbull, Conn., Drury came out on top again.

"We flipped and I lost," Gomez said. "I wonder if I can go
back and be a free agent to get my number back."

Gomez kidded that maybe over dinner and drinks he could convince
Drury to give him No. 23, the one Rangers fans are so used to
seeing in the red and black sweater of the rival New Jersey Devils.

Gomez was the first to sign with the Rangers on Sunday, agreeing
to a seven-year deal worth $51.5 million -- including $10 million
next season. Drury left the Buffalo Sabres -- the team that knocked
New York out of the playoffs last season -- for a five-year, $35.25
million contract.

"As a kid, this was the team," Drury said. "Where I'm from,
there's nothing bigger, better than the Rangers. Watching them win
the Cup, I was a little bit older, but coming to Madison Square
Garden, Brian Leetch, you name it, this was the place."

Neither was aware that the other was in the mix to come to New
York. The Rangers were expected to bring back top-line center
Michael Nylander to continue playing alongside captain
Jaromir Jagr. When that deal fell through, the Rangers had the resources
and the openings to land two of the best available centers.

In the pre-lockout NHL, the Rangers had the reputation of trying
to buy championships. But outside of the Cup title in 1994 that
broke a 54-year drought, the team failed to get its money's worth.

The salary cap helped the Rangers try a different approach of
building from within, then supplementing with outside help. They
now work under the same financial restrictions of the other 29
teams and can't spend beyond $50.3 million next season.

Their only move Monday was to re-sign journeyman defenseman
Jason Strudwick.

"We've stayed true to our word in that we've developed a
culture here now that suggests internal accountability," Rangers
coach Tom Renney said. "We wanted to make sure that the culture
was such that we could integrate the proper free agent into our
lineup. So quite honestly, nothing's changed in our mind anyway."

When the 27-year-old Gomez didn't receive a significant offer
from the Devils, he had a feeling the time had come for both sides
to move on. Pairing with Drury was an unexpected bonus.

"I found out he was thinking about New York. I was like,
'Wow,'" Gomez said. "I want to come here to win but by the end of
the day, when he was on the team, the chances go up tremendously.

"That's what I was most excited about yesterday. Then he took
my number so I take all that back."

Drury has beaten Gomez before. Back in 2001, he and the
Avalanche pulled out a Game 7 victory with the Stanley Cup on the

Along with being a great two-way player, who is strong on
faceoffs, and a topflight penalty-killer, Drury has the intangible
of being a winner. The Rangers saw that firsthand this spring when
they had a chance to beat Buffalo for a third straight time and
take the lead in their second-round series. But Drury scored the
tying goal with 7.7 seconds left.

The Sabres won Game 5 in overtime and wrapped up the series two
days later.

"He certainly has a sense of timing as to when he is able to
accomplish more extraordinary things as an athlete," Renney said.
"I think he allows others to pursue similar objectives because he
brings out the best in his teammates and puts them in position to
be winners, too."

Drury, 30, grew up a Rangers fan, and was also excited to come
home in a sense. He is far less effusive than Gomez and likely to
stay out of the spotlight -- if he can.

He even stepped out of the conference room where he and Gomez
talked to reporters so he could cool off. Gomez, who spent seven
seasons playing with New Jersey, didn't miss a beat.

Drury returned moments later, took off the sweater, sat away
from the table and leaned back in his chair.

"There's only one stage and that's New York," Gomez said.
"It's the biggest stage there is in the world, Madison Square
Garden. There's pressure, but that's what makes it fun when you go
to work every day."