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One day after the Buffalo Sabres lost co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, fans weren't the only ones trying to cope.

Former teammates were coming to grips with the departures, too.

Drury and Briere led the Sabres to the Presidents' Trophy last season and a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Now the Sabres must move forward without two of the NHL's best centers.

"I'm feeling the same as you're feeling if you're a Buffalo Sabres fan," Sabres winger Ales Kotalik said from the Czech Republic. "It's frustrating for me. It's tough watching other teams getting stronger and us getting weaker.

"We'll have to find our way through it. There are a lot of guys on our team who can rise up and step in. I'm definitely ready to step into a bigger role."

Not making the first two days of free agency any easier to digest was the revelation Drury had agreed in autumn to a four-year, $21.5 million deal to stay with Buffalo, but the Sabres never presented a contract to sign, a source intimate with negotiations told The Buffalo News.

Drury on Sunday joined the New York Rangers for five years and $35.25 million. Briere went to the Philadelphia Flyers for eight years and $52 million.

"I hate to see them go," Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman said while with his family at a Finland amusement park. "They were great players and good teammates. They were a big part of the team. It's going to be a challenge for us to try and do something without them."

The only roster move the Sabres have made this offseason was re-signing fourth-line forward Adam Mair on Saturday, although it appears defenseman Teppo Numminen is close to re-signing.

Ryan Miller was one of many Sabres disappointed they failed to retain one of their co-captains. But the All-Star goalie took a defiant tone in looking ahead.

"A lot of people in Buffalo," Miller said, "are going to be turned around and a little angry and don't know how to feel and don't know on which side of things they're going to place their emotions.

"It's a hard time for a lot of guys, but [Drury and Briere] better hope they didn't teach us too much because they're going to have to contend against us. Leadership is changing hands on our team, but the attitude still will be there. I'm going to make sure to the best of my abilities to keep them in our rear-view mirror."

Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell was confident the Sabres could remain a contender.

"The pieces are still in place any time you can have a goalie like Millsie and a core of good young players," Campbell said. "Hopefully we can find a way."

The void Drury and Briere left is humongous. Briere led Buffalo with 95 points and topped the league with 68 even-strength points. Drury was Buffalo's top special-teams player.

Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn and General Manager Darcy Regier admitted at Monday's news conference in HSBC Arena it would have been difficult to locate adequate proxies for Drury and Briere.

"To replace these two guys is almost impossible," Kotalik said. "It's probably going to be a different team, but it's tough to say now. Free agency is not over."

Two days after opening, however, the market has been ransacked of its biggest names. The Sabres might be forced to make patchwork trades.

"You can get good players, but I don't think you can replace that type of guy," Lydman said. "Drury was so good both ways. There's not too many guys in the league that are better overall. And Danny has been putting up points like very few other guys. I was hoping at least one of them would stay."

Numminen, reached at his home in Finland, was optimistic he would re-sign. He said he had positive Sunday talks with the Sabres.

Numminen, who turns 39 today, wasn't mentioned specifically at Monday's news conference, but Quinn said the team's entire defense would be back. Among the top seven defensemen from last season, Numminen is the only unrestricted free agent.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com