In light of the announcement of Danny Briere’s retirement after 17 seasons, we take a look at the diminutive center’s NHL career.
Since the lockout of 2004-05, the NHL has become much more of a ‘little man’s game’. No longer the domain of lumbering behemoths clutching, grabbing and trapping, today’s NHL allows smaller, quicker more creative players to flourish. So, when you see Nathan Gerbe, Mats Zuccarello, David Desharnais, Johnny Gaudreau, Stephen and Brian Gionta and their Lilliputian brethren lighting lamps in barns throughout the league, it’s difficult to imagine the very different game that Daniel Briere was drafted into with the 24th overall pick in 1996.
It was the era of the power forward. The success of Eric Lindros, Keith Tkachuk, Jaromir Jagr, Owen Nolan and others had teams looking for the next great big man. But, the Phoenix Coyotes saw past the numbers – 5-foot-10”, 175 pounds – and looked at what he had done while playing at Drummondville in the QMJHL, averaging more than two points a game.
Consistent success eluded Briere in the desert. From 1997 through 2001, he split his time between the Coyotes and their minor league affiliates. In 2001-02, he played 78 games and posted 60 points. But, he was dealt to Buffalo halfway through the following season.
In his first full season with the Sabres, he played in all 82 games for the first time in his career and notched 65 points. He spent the lockout season of 2004-05 in Switzerland. He returned to a more open NHL game that suited him just fine. In the truncated 2006 season he had 25 goals and 33 assists in 48 games. He followed that with a 32 goal, 95 point campaign in 2006-07, after which he would become a free agent.
Spurning a more lucrative offer from his childhood team, the Montreal Canadiens, Briere came to Philadelphia on an eight year deal worth a reported $52 million. This would be both a blessing and a curse. Because, no matter how well or how poorly he played over the next several years, everything he did would be judged in the light of his massive price tag.
The Flyers team that he joined was in flux, having just completed the worst season in their history. Many of the high-priced veterans they signed after the lockout had been jettisoned and they were now a young team with the future wide open before them. Briere eagerly accepted the challenge of being a veteran leader and twice posted 30 goal seasons as a Flyer. But, where he really shined was in the playoffs (68 points in 62 playoff games as a Flyer). Call it flair, call it great timing, call it what you will … when it mattered most #48 was at his best. His points per game average (0.71 in the regular season) jumped to 0.93 in the post-season and anyone who watched the runs that his teams made in 2008 (16 points in 17 games) or 2010 (30 in 23) can tell you how big he was when those teams needed a hero. His signature kneeling fist pump was as much a sign of springtime in Philadelphia as the trees blooming on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
In his last two seasons in Philadelphia, his production began to wane as Briere (and his contract) became the target of much speculation. The league had instituted an ‘amnesty’ plan that would allow teams to correct their salary cap issues by releasing high priced players without being penalized. Philadelphia opted to part with Briere and he accepted Montreal’s offer to come home. While his career would end after uneventful seasons with the Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, his place in Flyers history, if not NHL history, is secure.
Of the thousands of men who have played in the NHL, there are less than 200 who have scored 300 goals, Briere is one of them. While the 124 he scored in a Flyer uniform won’t make us forget the likes of Tim Kerr and Bill Barber. The ones he scored in the crucible of the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially the nine game-winning goals he scored, will always be remembered.
The Flyers will honor Briere in a pregame ceremony when the Sabres come to town on October 27th. Here at The Cave, we’re already tapping our sticks on the ice.