As Daniel Briere remains sidelined with an ongoing abdominal injury, the team seems to hardly miss him. It’s not that Briere isn’t a very good player. The Flyers have simply shown over the last few months that they don’t need him to win.
It’s hard to believe that Briere could be thought of as expendable. He was their prized free agent acquisition two summers ago, and many praised the Flyers for inking him to an 8-year deal on the first day of free agency.
Briere was coming off a career-high 95 point season with the Sabres, and was just 29-years old. And so the Flyers came calling with a $52 million offer. Yes, the figure was probably too high, but overpaying for proven talent is a necessary evil when a team is trying to rebound from an awful season like the Flyers were at that time.
Last year, Briere posted a respectable 72 points in 79 games. But given the size of his contract, Briere underachieved. Meanwhile, other players were stepping up.
Mike Richards exploded with a career-high point total, established himself as one of the best two-way players in the league, and showed that he was perfect captain material for the near future. Jeff Carter also stepped up, scoring 29 goals, finally living up to the potential that made him a first round pick in 2003.
Nevertheless, Briere finished second in team scoring, and helped lead the Flyers back to the playoffs. In the postseason, he was their best player in a grueling 7-game series victory over the Capitals, totaling 11 points. But he slowed down in the subsequent rounds, posting just 5 points over the last 10 games against Montreal and Pittsburgh.
This past offseason, the Flyers began to feel the effect of Briere’s contract on their salary cap. RJ Umberger, due for a raise after an outstanding postseason, had to be dealt away to Columbus to save money.
And instead of being able to sign any big names, the Flyers only had enough money to bring in the likes of Glen Metropolit, Arron Asham, and Ossi Vaananen.
This season, Briere has been limited to just nine games. He has posted nine points in those games, and now has only 81 points in 88 regular season games as a Flyer. Of course, these are solid numbers, but Briere simply doesn’t provide what the Flyers need at this point in time.
The combination at center of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter has been fine in his absence. Both players kill penalties, which Briere doesn’t do. Richards is a better passer than Briere, and Carter is a better shooter and pure goal scorer.
Offensive support from Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul, and Scott Hartnell allows the Flyers to ice an offensively potent lineup every night. And the Flyers have shown much better chemistry than they did when Briere was playing and the team limped out to an 0-3-3 start.
If Briere returns this season, the team will likely be forced to waive or trade someone just to make room under the salary cap for Briere’s contract. They are already keeping Ryan Parent in the minors longer than they want to because of cap considerations, and may need to make a future move involving Lupul, Scottie Upshall, or some other lineup regular.
Unfortunately, Briere’s hefty salary makes him virtually untradeable. Not only does this pose problems right now for the Flyers, but they could be in major cap trouble this offseason. With the economy reeling, the salary cap could very well decrease for the 2009-2010 season.
Not only would the Flyers have no room to sign any free agents, but their everyday lineup may be over the salary cap on its own, necessitating trades where the Flyers will be forced to accept prospects and draft picks in return.
Hindsight is 20/20, and I can’t say the Flyers made a bad move when they signed Briere. But they selected Richards and Carter in the first round of the 2003 draft, fully expecting them to turn into star players. And they have. Maybe if the Flyers had only shown some patience for their development, they wouldn’t have felt the need to break the bank on Briere’s contract.
The Flyers do have some holes, specifically on defense. But unless Briere is deemed out for the season, there will be no deadline deals for the Flyers this year. And there will likely not be any impact free agent signings this summer.
Yes, Briere and the Flyers did seem like a perfect fit just a short time ago. But through no fault of his, the team would truly be better off without him, with more money to spend in the areas that they need to address.
In the end, it always comes down to dollars and cents. Nothing personal, it’s just business.