Danny Briere is having the least productive season of his career with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Heading into this season, the shocking offseason moves made by the front office left many question marks about the Flyers' offense, having lost several key contributors.
Given the abundance of youth in the lineup, it only made sense that if the offense was going to be as potent as it had been in years past, a heavy burden would fall on the few veterans in the lineup to step up.
Many expected Claude Giroux to take the "next step," although few probably thought he was going to be this good.
After Giroux, however, Danny Briere was supposed to be the only other "known commodity" in terms of offensive production.
In Briere's four previous seasons with the Flyers, he has averaged 0.84 points per game and has never finished lower than fourth on the team in that category.
In his three seasons playing 75 or more games for the Flyers, he has averaged over 30 goals per year and averaged .039 goals per game, never finishing lower than third on the team in that statistic as well.
Even in 2008-09, when Briere only played 29 regular season games, he was able to net 11 goals (.38 goals per game, third on Flyers) and finish fourth on the team in points per game (0.86).
But this year has been a far different story.
Danny B's 14 goals tie him for seventh on the team, and his 0.22 goals per game are good enough for eighth among all Flyguys with at least 40 games played, behind Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot and James van Riemsdyk.
Given Briere's struggles, it is hard to believe only the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins (236) and the superstar-laden Pittsburgh Penguins (239) are the only teams that have scored more goals than the Flyers (232) in 2011-12.
Briere is the highest paid player on the team and has been, for the most part, quiet offensively (by his standards) for a team vying for the Atlantic Division title and the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
To me, Briere's cold streak, especially in the goal scoring department (only one goal, an empty netter, in the past 27 games), suggests only one thing: he is due for a monster playoff performance.
Danny Briere, throughout his entire career, has been a clutch playoff performer.
For his regular season career, Danny averages 0.79 points per game. In the postseason, that number jumps to 0.99 (96 points in 97 games), and the number is even higher with the Flyers, as Briere has scored over one point per game in 57 playoff contest with Philadelphia.
Briere has never finished lower than second on the Flyers in playoff points, and he lead the team in both 2008, when they reached the Conference Finals, and 2010, when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals (Briere lead the NHL in playoff scoring in 2010 with 30 points).
In the past, if the Flyers were going to make a deep playoff run, Briere was going to have to lead the charge, and every opponent knew it.
This season, however, the Flyers have two components that have been absent in the past four playoff runs: a legitimate superstar in Claude Giroux, and a stud goaltender (yeah, I'm saying it) in Ilya Bryzgalov.
Giroux's stellar regular season and ever-increasing notoriety throughout the league will ensure he and his linemates will be matched up against their opponent's No. 1 defensive unit for the majority of the 25-30 minutes 'G' will be playing once the "second season" rolls around.
If Briere is matched up against lesser-defensive units during the time of year he plays his best hockey, he won't be able to help putting up points.
I somewhat attribute Briere's lack of production to his use as a swingman this year.
Danny has always thrived when he's had a set line and was able to get in a groove with his linemates, the way he was able to do with Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino and Vinny Prospal in the past.
Because of the rash of injuries to Briere (missed 9 of 73 games so far), and some potential linemates, Danny B has not been able to find that groove in the regular season.
However, it seems the playoff lineup is taking shape and coach Laviolette is getting his top lines together to build chemistry for the playoffs. It's no surprise the only steady line (Hartnell-Giroux-Jagr) holds the team's top three scorers; they have been able to learn and complement each other's game over the course of the season.
Once Briere has set linemates, as he seems to have now in Jake Voracek and Eric Wellwood (who misses JvR?), he will be able to settle in with them and produce on a more consistent basis.
Danny Briere has been a perfect teammate and great leader all year, and has made a lot of strong plays even though his numbers suggest otherwise.
Soon, it will be time to step up and show the many young players with little-to-no playoff experience, whom he has mentored all season, what the tournament for the Stanley Cup is all about.
Briere's experience and "clutch-gene" will be the difference-maker in the playoffs.
Giroux's line should produce. The defense and goaltending should continue to improve their play as they have over the past few weeks.
But if the Flyguys are able to get that one extra boost, that key secondary scorer, they will be able to make amends for last season's disappointment with a lengthy playoff run.
In the preseason, I predicted the Flyers would reach the Eastern Conference Finals. I maintain that prediction and further it by saying if Briere's production increases considerably (0.8-1.0 points per game), the Philadelphia Flyers will win the Stanley Cup.
Thank you and good night.
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