2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers: Danny Briere's Most Important Season
2011-12 will be Briere's fifth season in Philly, and could be his most important.
22-48-12. 60 losses and only 56 points in the standings. 2006-07 was the worst season in franchise history.
But, as the saying goes, "things are always darkest before dawn". The Flyers' brass vowed to atone for its franchise's most embarrassing season and the Flyguys made good on that promise, coming all the way back, WITH A VENGEANCE, eventually reaching the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to Pittsburgh in five games.
To wash away the stink of the abysmal 06-07 season, the Flyers' front office knew they had to make a splash over the offseason.
Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul were brought in from Edmonton, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell were stolen from Nashville and James van Riemsdyk was drafted second overall in June's NHL Entry Draft. All nice moves, no doubt, and all worked out with varying levels of success.
But, the key to turning around a franchise that appeared to be stuck in hockey's past and resistant to its future was catching the biggest fish on the market. Coming off a season where he tied his then-career-high in goals (32) and set new career marks in assists and points (63/95), not to mention 15 points in 16 playoff games, that fish's name was Danny Briere.
Rumors circulated, seemingly from Christmas, that the Flyers were interested in one of Buffalo's two co-captains, Briere and Chris Drury. When free agency began, the Flyers targeted Briere, eventually signing him to an 8-year, $52 million contract with a full no-trade clause.
The rest, as they say, is history. Briere, entering his fifth year in orange and black, is the best free agent signing in team history. Philadelphia has reached the playoffs each of Briere's previous four years in the city, including trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008 and the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010.
Briere's regular season numbers have been solid, averaging 64 points and 77 games played in his three full seasons with the Flyers (I've decided to leave out Briere's 08-09 numbers, as he only played 29 regular season games).
But it is Danny Boy's playoff performance that has endeared him to Flyers fans. In 57 playoff games as a Flyer Briere has 59 points (29G/30A), including the playoff leading 30 he put up in 2010.
Briere's addition re-energized a franchise and its fan base, and saved them from an extended stay in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, just five years after acquiring Briere, the Flyers are in transition again, and again will be counting on their $52 million man to see them through. Briere's increased responsibilities on and off the ice make 2011-12 his most important season yet.
Saying that, here are Briere's top responsibilities heading into this crucial transition season.
First and Foremost: Stay Healthy
Briere takes a lot of shots, playing more aggressively than many players of his size
Briere, 33, has been the heart of the offense since signing with Philadelphia.
But, in 2008-09 Briere played in only 29 regular season games, recording only 11 goals and 14 assists. While 25 points in 29 games is close to Briere's average points per game as a Flyer, it is no coincidence that the Flyers worst year after acquiring Briere was Danny's worst with the Flyers.
Briere battled abdominal and groin injuries the majority of the season and the Flyers were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals in six games, the shortest playoff run of Briere's tenure in Philadelphia.
Given the roster turnover this season, Briere's presence and production are more vital than ever.
There are quite a few unknown commodities on this roster from Jaromir Jagr to Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn. Even JvR's expectations are questionable, as his previous two NHL seasons yielded point totals of 15/20/35 in 2009-10 and 21/19/40 in 2011.
If Briere is to miss time this season the offense could be in trouble.
Claude Giroux and his linemates will garner the attention of every top defensive line in the NHL, while young players like Schenn and this year's eighth-overall draft pick, Sean Couturier, learn the NHL game on the fly.
The team's commitment to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is an indication Philly will need to win with defense and goaltending.
However, I do not expect the Flyers to emulate the trapping New Jersey Devils of my youth. But, maximizing the potential production of key veterans like Briere, Jagr and Hartnell may actually mean reducing their 5-on-5 ice-time to keep them healthy. Deploying the three as power play specialists, or a line sent out for offensive zone draws is a way to maximize their potential while protecting them.
This is not a plea for giving Briere only 10 minutes on the ice a night, but simply an idea to ensure Briere is healthy for when he is most valuable, the stretch drive and playoff run.
Don't Be "an English Pig with No Brain"
"Dirty Danny" getting some of Washington d-man Karl Alzner
If you do not understand the title of this page you are to stop reading, IMMEDIATELY, and watch Slap Shot. Netflix it, download it illegally, whatever, but any hockey fan who has not seen the Paul Newman classic is, well, not a real hockey fan.
In 2010-11 Danny Briere recorded 87 penalty minutes. This number tied him for fourth on the Flyers with Sean O'Donnell. Only enforcers Jody Shelley and Dan Carcillo (127 a piece) and Scott Hartnell (142) sat more time in the penalty box for the Flyers. The last page was about the importance of maximizing Briere's production.
Sitting for an average of about one-to-two shifts per game in the penalty box while simultaneously putting your team down a man is the opposite of maximizing production.
#48 is scrappy, and he has to be. Playing center in the National Hockey League at roughly 5'10" and 180 pounds cannot be an easy task.
Briere excels in tight areas around and behind the net, and it can be a dirty job getting there. But nothing kills a team's momentum more than an offensive zone penalty. In his three healthy seasons as a Flyer, Briere has averaged 75.3 PIM/season. Slashes, high-sticks and goalie interference are all penalties that put your team at a disadvantage and do not do much to help your team.
More often than not, these are undisciplined retaliation penalties and, considering the loss of penalty killing standout Mike Richards, keeping the stars out of the box is of the utmost importance. Richards' penchant for not only killing off the man-down time but scoring shorthanded added an element of danger for opponents on power plays. With that element now partying in Los Angeles, staying out of the box becomes more important than ever.
Responsibility falls not only on the shoulders of Briere, but his teammates as well.
Players like Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds need to protect Briere from fighting so many of his own battles in order to keep him both out of the box and healthy. The fewer shots Briere gives, the fewer he's going to take, and, throughout his career, Briere has proven he is one of the most valuable and productive players in the league when healthy.
Letter or Not, Danny Briere Must Lead the Offense
Great leaders come in all sizes.
By now, everybody has heard of the locker room speech Danny Briere gave before the third period of game six of the quarter finals against Buffalo.
Briere rallied the troops, the team responded and came back to win game six in overtime to force a game seven, which the Flyers dominated.
Following Briere's inspirational words, the Flyers out-scored Buffalo 7-2 en route to clinching the series. Much was made about Briere, and not Captain Morgan, making the Lombardi-esque speech. Once the season ended disappointingly, and the captain took off without speaking to the media, more leadership questions were raised.
Then, both Richards and assistant captain Jeff Carter were shipped away. While much has been said of the pair's lack of leadership, the team did enjoy success over their tenure. That said, Briere must not only continue to be the player he is on the ice, but become a leader and mentor to the young players to ensure they do not succumb to the pressures and temptations of playing hockey in Philadelphia.
In an interview with CSNPhilly.com, Briere acknowledged Chris Pronger was the de-facto captain last year, despite Richards wearing the 'C'. Briere went on to explain that it would be an honor to be named captain, but whether he is or not will not change his approach. "Is it something that matters? No. That I have a letter or not, I won’t change the way I play or act in the dressing room. If I have something to say, I don’t need a letter to stand up and say to guys, ‘this is the way I see it'." (courtesy CSNPhilly.com)
Pronger is the assumed captain heading into 2011-12.
Kimmo Timonen is also expected to wear a letter on his sweater. Which leaves Briere as the lone member of the offense wearing a letter. No, this is not football, and no matter a player's position he is a contributor to the entire team. But the blue line is stacked with experience.
The offense, on the other hand, is brand new.
While there will be more leadership responsibility for Giroux and JvR, Briere is the veteran and former captain among the group. He will need to produce as well as stay disciplined on the ice, while taking command of a very young locker room.
Both the 39-year-old Jagr and 22-year old Jakub Voracek should see time alongside Briere this season, and it will fall on Briere's shoulders to use his playmaking ability to ease their transition into a new offense and build their confidence, as well as ensuring the front office is not eating crow for trading the faces of its franchise.
Facing off with Danny Briere
Danny has to step up on the draws to increase his effectiveness.
Last season, Danny Briere won only 48.2% of his faceoffs.
He finished last among centers on the Flyers, behind Jeff Carter (54.7%), Blair Betts (50.3%), Claude Giroux (50%) and Mike Richards (49.8%). While he was only a few percentage points out of second place, there is room for improvement in this area for the entire team. Betts will be manning the fourth line and Carter and Richards are gone. It can be assumed Betts and Brayden Schenn will be contributing quite a bit on special teams and, along with Giroux, manning a majority of the defensive zone draws.
Given their particular skill sets and potential line mates this is the best possible scenario, barring icing draws and favorable match-ups.
Looking again to maximize Briere's output, offensive zone sets are the best way to set up him, Jagr and Hartnell. But Briere converted slightly under 50% (49.7%) of his offensive zone faceoffs into possession for the offense.
If Briere is not able to improve his sub-50% faceoff winning percentage as a Flyer, he will lose quite a few opportunities for offensive puck possession, scoring chances and, ultimately, points. If Briere cannot make the most of these opportunities all of his aforementioned responsibilities will become a greater burden.
The offense as a whole will struggle, which will lead to an increase in ice time for Briere, which will expose him to more risk of injury. The frustration could manifest itself in more retaliation and offensive zone penalties, and the less productive a player he is, the less effective a leader he can be.
Danny Briere Must Do What Danny Briere Does Best
Briere's patented fist pump.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Score BIG goals.
That has been Briere's top priority since signing in Philadelphia. To call Briere "clutch" would be an understatement. His six game-winning goals were second on the team to only Jeff Carter (7).
His 30 postseason points in 2009-10 lead the NHL and set a new franchise record. It seems every time a big goal has been needed the undersized center has delivered.
Briere has been the antithesis of past Flyers stars, living up to the expectations and performing at his best under the spotlight of big games. You never hear about Briere's contract from Flyers fans, despite it being the richest in the team's history.
There is a reason Briere is still here, in the middle of the youth movement, and he will need to continue to be Mr. Clutch for the Flyers to continue the success they have enjoyed over the first half of Briere's deal.
When Philly trails by a goal in the third, Briere will be expected to answer the call and steal his team a point in the standings and give them a chance for two.
There is no questioning the Flyers overall success since suffering through 60 losses in 2006-07. Briere put the Flyers back on the map as legitimate post-lockout contenders, but going into his fifth year in Philadelphia, his responsibilities now are greater than ever. Briere revels in the role of clutch scorer. How he has embraced such a crucial position bodes well for his performance in the roles he will hold more exclusively than in the previous four seasons.