Danny Briere retires: The character, the contract and the clutch

Danny Briere retires: The character, the contract and the clutch

Danny Briere, 37, officially retired on Monday after 17 years and 973 NHL games. The Philadelphia Flyers appropriately made the announcement, as the forward played the majority of his games with them and their appreciation was always quite mutual.

“After taking a few weeks to think about it, it’s time to hang them up and spend a little more time at home with the family,” Briere said. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to have had a chance to play with some great organizations, but at this point the family becomes a priority. The Flyers are where I played the bulk of my career. I’ve had a great time in Philadelphia and have been very, very fortunate to have the chance to play here. I would like to thank Mr. Snider, Paul Holmgren and Peter Luukko along with the coaches, staff, the fans and all my teammates. It’s been a great ride in an area that I still call home.”

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Briere scored 307 goals and 389 assists for 696 points in his career. It began with the Phoenix Coyotes (258 games) before he was moved to the Buffalo Sabres in a trade for Chris Gratton. It was there that he blossomed, and endeared himself to the local fan base with 230 points in 225 games. Then it was off to the Flyers with that infamous contract; post buyout, he played single seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche as a depth forward.

I wrote about Briere’s legacy earlier this summer when the retirement talk started, but I think it boils down to three essentials: The character, the contract and the clutch.

The Character

A cursory search on Briere reveals that the term “fan favorite” was applied to him in Phoenix, Buffalo and especially Philadelphia. This is not a coincidence.

Briere was listed, generously, at 5-9 and 174 pounds. While he wasn’t Nathan Gerbe, he wasn’t exactly of the size and stature that was required for most offensive stars of his generation.

There’s always something enthralling about a player that plays so much bigger than his god-given frame, and Briere was a tough bugger. He went to the danger zones, he had that same human pinball quality as Marty St. Louis and he didn’t hesitate to nefariously mix it up with opponents. Which frequently meant he was something less than a fan favorite for the other 29 teams facing him each season, but that tends to happen when your signature face-off move is a stick knob across the other guy’s jaw.

But Briere was a fan favorite because he, well, favored the fans.

He didn’t join teams, he joined communities. He made time for the fans, and made time to help them any way he could: The Daniel Briere Foundation is over a decade old, and its annual charity golf and poker tournaments have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in Canada. He was involved in Ed Snider’s youth hockey initiatives. Just this summer, while contemplating retirement, he took part in a charity hockey tournament in South Jersey. 

All of it humanized Briere in ways that don’t always happen for star players. So you couldn’t help but feel for the guy when his divorce was public to the point where it became chirp fodder for Pat Kaleta, leading to that memorable "HBO 24/7" subplot where single dad Briere had Claude Giroux as a ‘cool uncle’ house guest for his kids. You couldn’t help but shed a tear reading about the sudden loss of his mother, either.

There was a logo on the front, a name on the back and a heart on the sleeve of his jersey.

The Contract

The eight-year, $52-million contract Briere signed with the Flyers as a free agent in 2007 defines him as much as anything else. It was a ridiculous jackpot orchestrated by Pat Brisson, and a harbinger of cap-friendly contracts to come: $10 million up front, tapering down to $2 million in 2013-14.

The Summer of 2007 was ripe for player criticism, and Briere’s contract was sometimes hit with the rotten tomatoes aimed at those of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. But he was better than a point-per-game for the Sabres during his time there. The only thing wrong with the contract, as I said at the time, was the no-move clause.

The biggest fallout from the contract was in Buffalo, where GM Darcy Regier and owner Tom Golisano were made to look like petty fools.

Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason said the mishandling of Briere and Chris Drury was “the biggest personnel blunder in the history of the franchise,” and it’s hard to argue the point when Regier himself basically said he wanted a do-over in his July 2007 press conference.

(For an alternative take on the players’ departure, check out Buffalo Wins.)

Like every other NHL deal, the contract was a good one until it wasn’t. The Flyers bought out the final two years of his deal in 2013. Brier’s numbers were declining and his injuries were piling up. Two years later, he’s retiring.

There will be those who say Briere wasn’t worth the money, but none of them are really worth the money, are they? What the Flyers got out of him, however, was 283 points in 364 games … and 30 points in 23 games in the 2010 playoffs.

The Clutch

Any discussion of Briere has to include his most inexplicable attribute: An ability to pile up points when it “mattered the most.”

Toss out his last run with the Canadiens in a spare-part role (16 games, seven points) and Briere had 109 points in 108 playoff games. That included an NHL-best 30 points in the Flyers’ 2010 run to the Stanley Cup Final, scoring 12 goals. That included 19 points in 18 games for the Sabres in their 2006 run to the conference final.

There’s just over 30 players in NHL history that have averaged a point per game during the playoffs. Until his final playoff appearance, Briere was among those names: Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Orr.

“In my mind, a lot of it is mental. You see guys that sometimes, they become a little afraid to make a mistake,” said Briere. “And you see other guys, they just thrive.”

For 17 seasons, through ups and downs both professional and personal, that’s what Briere did.