Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Some Wins Now For Briere

If the Canadiens need some inspiration, and it seems that they may do, they should think about this:

Daniel Briere is 36 years old and not looking at too many more contracts in his future. He also happens to be one of the premiere playoff performers of all time to never hoist a Stanley Cup.

Briere has established his reputation as a clutch performer in the 9 seasons since the 2005 lockout. In that time, he has been to the playoffs 8 seasons and been on teams that made the second round an astonishing 7 times, the conference finals 5 times and the Stanley Cup finals once. All the eliminations came at the hands of eventual finalists, even in the first round exit.

This is impressive enough, but note he was not a role player in these exercises, but always a leader. In his 7 playoff excursions before this one, he was always first or second on his team in scoring (only ever beaten out by Claude Giroux). Twice he has led the league. In 2010, he led all playoff skaters in points. In 2012, he led them all in goals. Prior to his role this season, you could look down his stats and see a point per playoff game.

What is seldom reported when talking about all this is how those teams that Briere led to respectable heights were seldom favoured to do so. Many times, he took an underdog group a long way on the back of his slick playoff performances. The post-lockout Buffalo Sabres surprised everyone on his shift, and the Flyers that he chose as a free agent were reborn from the Forsberg debacle under his watch.

This is to say that a player in search of success didn't choose the easy option as so many do. In his quest for the Cup, he has chosen solid outfits that would not have done much without him. He did not Raymond Bourque his way to a Stanley Cup. And this continued with his choice of the Montreal Canadiens this past summer.

We have tended to focus on one side of the free agent deal that brought Danny Briere to Montreal -- the choice that Marc Bergevin made. But don't think Briere's choices were limited. Perhaps the Canadiens did bid highest. But he knew he would face scrutiny and became the first French Canadian player of note to take the dive under the microscope of the Antichambre in what is now long memory.

A team he knew was bounced easily from the playoffs, a team of many new parts, a team that gets far more attention than most others in similar situations. He did the exact opposite of Nathan Horton, as he chose the limelight, and a situation that was always going to be predictably hostile (and it has been for much of the last 10 months). He did it because these were the Canadiens. This was the team he wanted to win with.

And win he has.

The Canadiens were a good outfit during the regular season. Not particularly because of his presence on the scoresheet. But as we can see now, the depth he provided has helped the lineup find roles that work for everyone. The Habs have been better in the postseason (through two rounds at least), and in that time, he has seen his contribution grow in significance.

In these playoffs, he has been used very sparingly. You may be surprised to know that he leads again.

  • His 2.829 Pts/60 is the highest on the team, he's 18% better than anyone else. He gets most of this lead from being the leader in first assists and by being near the top in goals
  • He's third on the team in ES goals created by ice time behind Lars Eller and Rene Bourque
  • And fourth on the team in PP goals created by ice time behind Subban, Vanek and Gallagher
  • Only Lars Eller can beat him in goals created for ice time overall
  • He doesn't have a game winner, but has a hand in three of the nine so far, two in OT

To watch this guy it wouldn't seem plausible most of the time. But then he does just pop up at the right time in the right place. You don't get to be a point-per-game performer over 120 playoff games for nothing.

This helps to explain from NHL.com:
"I don't have 10 years left. I don't have a Cup, obviously. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get one."

The New York Rangers were famously down in a hole a few weeks ago to the Pittsburgh Penguins and were able to summon up strength that hasn't really waned to back Martin St. Louis. I would never belittle the inspiration that St. Louis still provides for his squad. but it's high time the Habs took a look around for some of their own. If each player can't see that in a 30-team league with a lottery draft that opportunities to reach the Cup final won't come sailing by everyday. At least then see that Daniel Briere does not deserve to become Adam Oates, bitter as anything on intermission duty as a leader among Cupless point producers.

And wouldn't it be wonderful if someone in Briere's deserving position would win with the team of his childhood as opposed to being along for the ride with the reigning champions of the day.


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