NEW YORK -- The Rangers bought out the final year of captain Chris Drury's contract on Wednesday, making the veteran forward an unrestricted free agent after four seasons in New York.
The move announced Wednesday will give the Rangers some salary-cap relief for the upcoming season and could help them sign long-coveted Dallas Stars center Brad Richards, who is expected to be the best available player in the unrestricted free agent market that opens Friday.
Drury will be given $3.333 million for the buyout that closes the five-year, $35.25 million deal he signed with the Rangers after leaving Buffalo as a free agent in 2007.
The buyout will leave the Rangers with a salary-cap hit of $3.717 million next season and $1.667 the following season, under the current collective bargaining agreement with the NHL and the players' association. That agreement is in effect for one more season.
"Chris is a consummate professional, a tremendous competitor and an even better person," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said in a statement. "He gave his heart and soul to the Rangers organization in his time here and we wish him the best in his future endeavors."
Drury, 34, never hit it big with the Rangers after he and fellow center Scott Gomez were signed on the same day to bolster the team's offense that was then powered by Jaromir Jagr. Neither Drury nor Gomez, who lasted only two seasons with the Rangers, meshed well on a line with Jagr, and New York was saddled by both big contracts.
Gomez was traded to Montreal following the 2008-09 season after registering 32 goals and 128 points.
Drury, a Connecticut native, thanked the team for giving him the opportunity to live out a childhood dream.
"It was a great honor and privilege to be a New York Ranger for the past four years, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to fulfill that childhood dream," Drury said in a statement that was emailed to The New York Post.
"The Rangers are a first-class organization with great people in the hockey, public relations, team services and community relations departments.
"I would also like to thank Ranger fans. They always inspired me to do the best I could in whatever role I was asked to play. Playing before them in the Garden was a thrill of a lifetime. I wish all the fans and the entire Ranger organization the best of luck in the future."
Drury's best season on Broadway was his first, when he notched 25 goals and 58 points while playing in all 82 games. He was named team captain the following season under coach Tom Renney, who was fired in February 2009. The soft-spoken Drury slipped to 22 goals and 56 points, and had only one goal in the playoffs when New York blew a 3-1 series lead to Washington in the first round.
His numbers dropped again during the 2009-10 season, the first full year under coach John Tortorella, when Drury managed only 14 goals and 32 points as the Rangers failed to make the playoffs.
That was just the leadup to last season, Drury's worst and most frustrating campaign, when injuries limited him to 24 games. He didn't score a goal until the final day of the season, when the Rangers beat New Jersey and qualified for the postseason, and finished with just five points.
Drury could have earned his full $5 million for next season if he chose to apply for a medical exception because of his injured left knee and it was determined that he wasn't able to play. Instead, he will become a free agent on Friday.
Drury broke his finger twice last season and underwent knee surgery. He made a surprise return to the lineup for the season finale on April 9 after being sidelined since Feb. 3 because of the knee injury. Drury had one assist in the Rangers' five-game, first-round series loss to Washington.
In 264 regular-season games with the Rangers, Drury had 62 goals and 89 assists. He added four goals and three assists in 21 playoff games.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.