Danny Briere: A Career Retrospective

Congratulations on your retirement, Danny B!
Congratulations on your retirement, Danny B!

On Monday, August 17, 2015, the world of hockey received some sad but expected news: Danny Briere, an NHL veteran of 17 seasons, officially announced his retirement.  After 973 games played, 307 goals, 696 points, and enough memories to last a lifetime, Briere has hung up his skates for the last time.  Let’s take a look back at one of my favorite Flyers of all time, Danny Briere.

Danny Briere’s story begins in Gatineau, Quebec in 1977.  Briere grew up idolizing the Montreal Canadiens, as did every young Quebec boy.  Briere decided to become a hockey player, but was limited by his small stature.  Briere was told that he would never amount to much and couldn’t hold up physically in the tough National Hockey League.  Briere kept those memories and they lit the fire inside of him.  After three fantastic seasons for Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Danny Briere was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft in the 1st Round, 24th Overall.  Ironically, Phoenix had acquired that pick from the Philadelphia Flyers, the team Briere would eventually be most associated with.

Briere split time between Phoenix and their AHL Affiliate, the Springfield Falcons early on, but by 2001, Briere was an established NHL regular.  Briere’s stint as a Coyote put him on the NHL map.  In 2002, Briere posted his first big year, tallying 32 goals and 60 points.  After a strong start to the 2003 season, Briere was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Chris Gratton.  After posting 12 points in 14 games as a Sabre, it was clear that Briere was going to be a key cog for Buffalo for a long time.

Briere’s 2004 season was an impressive one; he scored 28 goals and 65 points while also accumulating 70 penalty minutes, showing off his feisty side.  When the 2005 season was cancelled due to a lack of a CBA agreement, Briere trained and returned to the Sabres better than ever in 2006.  The Sabres were the ideal franchise in the new Salary Cap era, boasting players such as Briere, Brian Campbell, Ryan Miller, and Chris Drury on cheap deals.  Briere only managed to play in 48 games that season due to an abdominal injury, but he posted 58 points, solidifying his status as an NHL star.  Healthy for the playoffs, he led Buffalo with 19 points in 18 games, his first sign of postseason excellence.  His 2007 season was his best statistically.  Briere attempted 234 shots, the most he had taken at that point in his NHL career.  The move paid off big time.  Dubbed the “Cookie Monster” for his tendency to shooting top shelf where “Mama hides the cookies”, Briere had his biggest season yet.  32 goals and a ridiculous 63 assists for 95 points in a contract year was exactly what Briere needed financially.  He again had a big playoff (15 points in 16 games) and cemented his status as the number one free agent target and a top 10 NHL player.  Who came calling for his services though, was an unexpected suitor.

The Philadelphia Flyers were fresh off of a 22-win campaign in 2007, their worst ever.  However, a young core was being built by GM Paul Holmgren.  With youngsters like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and R.J. Umberger still learning the ropes and star wingers Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble in need of a center now, Holmgren offered Briere a massive contract unlike anything else the time had ever seen.  Briere signed with Philadelphia on July 1, 2007, for 8 years and $52 million, an AAV of $6.5 million per season.  The contract was heavily front-loaded; Briere would earn $10 million the first year and at least $7 million until 2013, at which point his actual salary would decrease to a paltry AAV of $2.5 million.  This allowed the Flyers to trim the cap figure to a more reasonable $6.5 million, and enabled them to acquire more superstars, including Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Jofferey Lupul, and captain Jason Smith within a week.  The Flyers were back.

Briere’s first season in Philly started off slowly, but by the end finished with 31 goals and 72 points, more than justifying the lofty $6.5 million cap hit.  His leadership and media availability were traits previously unforeseen in the controversial and media-hungry Philadelphia.  He again posted almost a point per game in the playoffs with 9 goals and 16 points in 17 playoff games as the Flyers fell to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.  The following year for Briere was a lost season.  While he was good for an absurd 11 goals in 29 games, the 29 games was the problem.  Multiple lower-body injuries cost Briere the 2009 season, and put his contract into jeopardy.  Further concerns about Briere’s ability to live up to the money were risen with an uncharacteristically slow 2010 season.  Briere’s struggles led to a demotion in lines with similar underachievers Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino.  The unlikely combination caught fire at the right time.  Briere finished the season strong, posting respectable numbers such as 26 goals and 53 points.  His real contribution came in that year’s playoffs though.

The combination of misfits Hartnell, Briere, and Leino was unstoppable in the 2010 postseason.  Each posted over 20 points in 23 games, but Briere’s numbers were of course the best.  Danny B posted 12 goals and 30 points in those 23 games, a crazy figure.  The Flyers upset the Devils, Bruins, and Canadiens before dropping the Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in controversial fashion, but Briere had found new life in Philadelphia.  In the following season, Briere’s chemistry with linemates Hartnell and Leino continued, as Briere posted his first 30-30 season since 2008, totaling 34 goals and 34 assists.  Briere became more of a sniper than he had ever been, and life was good.

A quick exit in 2011 was too much for Paul Holmgren to take.  Briere still had a big playoff, but the goaltending carousel and lack of offense from stars Richards and Carter led to their shocking exits.  Briere stepped into a leadership role in the absence of the two young stars, but his on-ice production began to fade.  While new stars Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk were having successful seasons, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell revitalized their careers, and Ilya Bryzgalov took over the goaltending in Philly, Briere slowed down considerably.  His defense, never a strong point but also never a detriment, began to fail him, and his sniper’s touch also went dry.  Briere posted only 16 goals and 49 points in 70 games, combatting long goalless droughts.  But come playoff time, Briere went on one last golden run with Philly.

The resurgent Flyers were pitted against the superior Penguins once again in the first round, and a quick exit seemed inevitable.  But Briere and company made sure that wouldn’t happen on their watch.  A fight-filled series led to a Philly win in 6 stellar games.  Briere had 6 goals in that series.  The stingy Devils were next on the menu.  After a hard-fought first game needed overtime to decide the victor, Danny B took centerstage as only he could.  https://youtu.be/5GE4egIC3nQ?t=12

The Flyers failed to win another game in that series, and lost it 4-1 as the Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Briere continued his success, totaling 8 goals and 13 points in 11 games.  The lockout shortened 2012 season was a tough one for Briere again.  Injuries and old age limited Briere to 34 games out of a possible 48 and only 6 goals.  With general mangers given the gift of 2 compliance buyouts, the writing was on the wall for Danny Briere to exit Philadelphia.

After the buyout, Briere latched on with his boyhood favorite Montreal Canadiens.  Coach Michel Therrien never found a suitable role for Briere, and he was traded to the Colorado Avalance where he would finish his career under Patrick Roy.  And just this past Monday, the final chapter in Briere’s storybook NHL career was written when he announced his retirement, fittingly, in Philadelphia.

In closing, Danny was always one of my favorite Flyers of all time, and probably my favorite forward ever.  One of my first Flyers jerseys had the familiar number 48 stitched on the back below the Briere nameplate.  I admired Briere’s courage and his heart.  While I never endured the hardship of being the “little kid” as Briere so famously did, his lesson that with perseverance and hard work anything is possible stuck in my head and inspired me.  In fact, Briere inspired me so much that when I was just a 9-year-old playing youth hockey, I began to celebrate my goals (however rare they were!) with Briere’s signature “one knee fist pump” celebration.  I’ll never forget Briere’s combination of courage, clutch, and class.  There will never be another like number 48, Danny Briere.

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