In case you hadn't heard, Joe Thornton signed a three-year contract extension worth $21.6 million with the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. The former Hart Trophy winner had one year remaining on his contract, but the Sharks didn't want to risk the possibility of losing their best player.

It made such good sense that the Calgary Flames decided to follow suit. They're working on a long-term contract extension with winger Jarome Iginla, making sure a year in advance their best player doesn't skate freely into unrestricted free agency.

Thornton will receive a $600,000-per-season bump in pay, which isn't all that much considering how much he would have pocketed had he shopped himself in the open market. He'll make $7.2 million per season over the final three years, terrific for the Sharks because he could have received $8 million, maybe $9 million.

Iginla? He figured he was already getting a fair shake, so he was prepared to take little or no raise to stick around. He's giving the Flames a break, really, because they've treated him properly by simply addressing his situation. It was a show of faith. Iginla returned the favor with a show of loyalty.

See how it works?

For some reason, such as arrogance, the Buffalo Sabres figured they could get away with trying to muscle co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere when, in fact, General Manager Darcy Regier and owner Tom Golisano didn't have an ounce of leverage. Apparently, they thought they were smarter than legions of people who have wailed all season to get something done.

Boy, they really taught Drury and Briere a lesson, didn't they?

Briere signed an eye-popping eight-year deal worth $52 million with Philadelphia. It's exactly three years and $27 million more than he would have accepted from the Sabres, had they tended to their business back in January. Yep, the cerebral Sabres could have had him for $25 million over five years.

Drury landed a five-year deal worth $35.25 million with the New York Rangers, who realized they would have beaten the Sabres last season with Captain Clutch in their lineup. So when you break it down, Briere will average $6.5 million per season while Drury will get just more than $7 million per year.

Add it up, $13.5 million per year, give or take a few bucks. It's about what the Sabres should have expected.

One more time: Drury and Briere would have stayed in Buffalo for less money than their market value had the Sabres shown genuine interest. The Sabres' gross miscalculation concerning this situation will cost them plenty of fans, which translates to plenty of money. It's bad business.
It doesn't matter that Philly overpaid for Briere. What matters is the Sabres could have kept their leading scorer without overpaying him. Instead, they did next to nothing, which was simply mind-boggling.

The Rangers are legitimate contenders with Drury and Scott Gomez being added to a good lineup that already had Jaromir Jagr. The Rangers found a way to give three players more than $22 million next season. We'll see if it works, but at least they made the effort to get better.

Buffalo is left with trying to clean up its own mess, which likely will mean spending more than necessary on other players. Trust me, the price for Thomas Vanek just increased because he's more valuable to the Sabres than ever. We'll see if another team, such as the Montreal Canadiens, throws a pile of money on Vanek's lap and forces Buffalo to match.

It's safe to assume a proud hockey town feels like it was kicked in the stomach by the very team it supported, not the leaders who departed. Good thing the Sabres kept coach Lindy Ruff, at least for now.

Let's just call the Sabres' situation what it is, the biggest personnel blunder in the history of the franchise. The Ottawa Senators fired John Muckler after he helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals because he didn't do enough at the trade deadline. The Sabres gave Regier a contract extension for doing nothing since the deadline.

Here I was last summer praising Regier for locking up his younger players. It actually looked like the guy finally understood the importance of keeping good people. Come to find out, his real genius is keeping his job. How it has continued for a decade and counting is one of the true sports mysteries. He should have been fired years ago.

What, Bob Clarke wasn't available?

Regier has alienated scouts, players, front-office types and fans for years and still came away relatively unscathed. Golisano deserves his share of criticism for Drury and Briere cruising into free agency. So does managing partner Larry Quinn, who should have been astute enough to comprehend the situation and strong enough to fix it.

A little lesson in NHL economics, boys, without trying to insult your intelligence: The money flows from the ticket-buying public to the owner to the players, not from the owner to the players to the fans. You would think Golisano would know more than anyone, but apparently the man who founded Paychex doesn't like signing them.

His conversation with Regier last summer should have lasted about five seconds.

Golisano: Darcy, it's Tom, your boss. Yeah, get Chris and Danny signed to contract extensions before they slip away.

Regier: Well, Tom, our policy is that we don't usually sign players in the last year of . . .

Golisano: Darcy, you're fired.

Click.
The message San Jose and Calgary sent to their players and fans was they were committed to keeping them. The message Thornton and Iginla sent to management was they wouldn't demand the last dollar. The message all involved sent to other players was San Jose and Calgary are quality organizations.

The Flyers and Rangers sent the message they're playing for keeps. And the message the Sabres have sent since last summer was confirmed over the weekend. They're not serious about winning the Stanley Cup. Just look at the way they do business and the players they have pushed away.

Now that Drury and Briere are gone, perhaps Regier and Golisano will get the message, too.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com