In the summer of 2007, the Philadelphia Flyers signed free agent center Danny Briere to an eight-year, $52 million contract that would pay the crafty forward an annual cap hit of $6.5 million per season with a full no-movement clause.
Briere was coming off a 95 point season (32 goals, 63 assists) with the Buffalo Sabres in which he established himself as one of the best offensive players in the game, and was part of a three headed center monster on the free agent market along with former Buffalo teammate Chris Drury and New Jersey’s Scott Gomez.
The Gatineau, Quebec native registered 92 goals and 230 points in 225 career regular season games with the Sabres. Briere averaged .98 points per game in the Blue and Gold during the regular season.
Briere was an even greater force in the postseason as he averaged a point per game with 11 goals and 34 points.
For the Flyers, it was a major signing following a season in which they won a league-low 22 games, and finished dead last in the standings. Their 22-48-12 record was the most amount of losses and the worst win percentage in franchise history.
A team that lacked pure offensive talent, the Orange ‘n’ Black were in desperate need of a scorer with game-changing ability so general manager Paul Holmgren went in aggressive pursuit of Briere, Drury and Gomez.
Holmgren, who was spending cash as if there were no salary cap, persuaded Briere to sign with Philadelphia rather than re-signing with Buffalo or going to Montreal to play in his native province.
Three years into his contract, Briere looks primed to have his best season with the Flyers.
In his first season with the Flyers, the 5’9″, 177-pound Briere recorded 72 points in 79 games. He scored 31 goals, and averaged .91 points per game. His numbers dipped from his last year with Buffalo, but he finished the season second in team scoring.
Briere took a turn for the worse in the second year of his contract, but it wasn’t entirely his fault as he went through a nightmare of a season due to injuries. Less than a month into the year, Briere suffered an abdominal tear, then pulled his groin in his second game back that forced him out of the lineup for an additional nine games.
What would you know, Briere re-injured his groin against the Tampa Bay Lightning in early December.
Briere still managed to average about a point per game as he registered 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 29 games.
After the 2008-09 season, fans started to call for the Flyers to unload Briere’s contract despite the fact that he was still producing points, and he has a no-movement clause with a huge deal. Logically, it’s close to impossible for Holmgren to find a trade partner if he wanted to dump Briere.
Last season, Briere posted solid numbers for a second liner as he scored 26 goals and 53 points in 75 games.
Are those stats you would expect from someone who’s getting paid $6.5 million per season? No, but it’s what he did in the playoffs that tells you that we have yet to see the best from Danny Briere in a Flyers uniform.
Briere led the entire 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 30 points, and broke the record for points in a postseason by a Flyer held by the great Reggie Leach, who had 24 in the 1976. He scored 12 goals and 18 assists in 23 playoff games.
The reasons for his success were his linemates, as coach Peter Laviolette paired him with Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino five games into the playoffs after Jeff Carter broke his foot. In 18 games with Hartnell and Leino, Briere posted 27 of his 30 points.
Briere was a force in the Flyers Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks as he fell a point shy of tying Wayne Gretzky’s record for points in a Final with 12 points (three goals, nine assists). It was the most points by a player in the Finals since Mario Lemieux in 1992.
The trio of Hartnell, Briere and Leino was arguably the best line in the playoffs as they create scoring chances almost every time they were on the ice. Against Chicago, the trio was the only line to show up on the scoreboard as they carried the Flyers offense.
While the first three regular seasons haven’t been up to par, Briere should have a big season for the Flyers in 2010-11, especially playing with Hartnell and Leino.
Let’s give Briere one more season before we cast our final judgment on his eight-year contract.
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