In 1996, the NHL was a land of giants. With enforcers still very much alive and top players like Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, and Eric Lindros dominating the league, it was rare to see smaller players make the NHL at all, let alone find success. It wasn’t until a late first round pick in 1996 changed the way most viewed the game and opened the doors for a new generation of small players.
Born October 6, 1977, Danny Briere grew up playing hockey in his hometown of Gatineau Quebec, it was clear early on Briere was going to be a star. during his first season with AAA Gatineau Intrepide of the Quebec Midget League he was named the top forward at the end of the season. He was later drafted sixth overall by the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the 1994 QMJHL entry draft.
Briere recorded 123 points during his rookie season, good enough for third overall in the league. He won the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. Briere boosted his offense the following season to 163 points, winning the Jean Beliveau Trophy as the league’s leading scorer.
With his two astounding junior seasons in tow, Briere was selected in the first round, 24th overall, in the 1996 NHL Draft. He returned to Drummondville for one more season, scoring 130 points, finishing third in the league in scoring once again.
Standing at just 5’9, Briere struggled to find a spot in the NHL during his early career, splitting his first four seasons between the Coyotes and AHL Springfield. During his first pro season in 1997-98 season, he tore up the AHL registering 36 goals and 92 points in 68 games, winning the Red Garrett Award for the AHL’s top rookie. He was called up late in the season, playing five games with the Coyotes scoring only one goal.
Briere started the 1998-99 season with the Coyotes. He played 68 games but only recorded 8 goals and 14 points before being sent down to the AHL for the final 13 games of the season. The following season, Briere started the season with Springfield once again, he tore up the stat sheet, scoring 29 goals and 71 points in 58 games, but again failed to make his mark with the Coyotes, playing 13 games but only able to muster one goal and one assist.
Entering the 2000-01 season, Briere had a 30/30 split between the AHL and NHL, scoring 46 points in the AHL and 15 points in the NHL. Briere finally earned a full-time NHL gig for the 2001-02 season due to his scoring ability finally sticking at the top level. Briere would hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career, the first of four times he would accomplish that feat. He finished first on the Coyotes in goal scoring with 32, and second in points with 60, helping the Coyotes make the playoffs.
Briere would play one final season in 2002-03 with the Coyotes but produced rather mediocre numbers with 17 goals in 68 games and the Coyotes saw him as an expandable asset going into the 2003 trade deadline. On March 10, 2003 the Coyotes traded Briere along with a 2004 third round pick (Andrej Sekera) to the Buffalo Sabres for journeyman forward Chris Gratton and a 2004 fourth round pick (Liam Reddox).
He would go on to play 14 games for the Sabres the remaining of the season scoring 12 points. Briere played his first full 82-game NHL season in 2003-04, leading the Sabres in points with 65, but the Sabres narrowly missed the playoffs.
Briere was named to the 2003 Team Canada roster for the World Championships where he won a gold medal while scoring nine points in nine games. He was again named to the Team Canada roster for the 2004 World Championships where, again, he would be a major factor in Canada securing their second straight gold medal.
Danny Briere spent the 2005 lockout in Switzerland and returned to the NHL once the work stoppage had ended and returned to Buffalo as a superstar. Even though Briere missed 32 games due to abdominal surgery in January, he still scored 25 goals and 58 points helping the Sabres make the playoffs. Buffalo would make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, thanks in part to Briere’s eight goals and 19 points, though they lost in seven games to the eventual Cup winners the Carolina Hurricanes.
The 2006-07 season saw Buffalo turn into a force to be reckoned with. The Sabres won the Presidents’ trophy for the leagues best record. They finished with the most goals scored in the league with a whopping 298. Briere lead the team in points with 95, his best personal season of his career, and was one of four players on the team to break the 30-goal plateau. The Sabres returned to the Eastern Conference Final for the second season in a row on the back of Briere’s 15 points, but lost to the Senators in five games, leaving the organization frustrated.
The Sabres organization took multiple huge losses during the summer of 2007. Briere, Chris Drury, and Dainius Zubrus would leave in free agency and Tomas Vanek was almost lost to the Oilers via an offer sheet that the Sabres were forced to match.
There were plenty of rumors Danny Briere would sign with his hometown Montreal Canadiens, but he shocked the league by instead signing with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 1, 2007. The Flyers were desperate to rebound after being at the bottom of the league the previous season. Briere was a crown jewel in a huge summer that also saw Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Jason Smith, and Joffrey Lupul to Philadelphia.
The Flyers went from worst to a serious threat as multiple stars took lead reins as elite scorers. Even though Briere didn’t match his career high 95 points from the season before, he still scored a team-leading 31 goals with 72 points, second only to Mike Richards. The Flyers surprised everyone in the playoffs, beating the Capitals in seven games after jumping to a 3-1 series lead. They then downed the heavily-favored Canadiens in five games, but lost to in the Eastern Conference Final in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Flyers continued to tinker with their lineup heading into the 2008-09 season due to the salary cap. Luckily, the Flyers benefited from the emergence of young forward Claude Giroux. Briere suffered an abdominal tear less than a month into the season. He returned on November 8, but three days later he suffered a going injury, sidelining him for another nine games. In his first game back he suffered another groin pull. Briere returned to the Flyers in late January but played just 29 total games, recording 25 points.
During the 2009-10 season, the Flyers made major changes to the roster. They brought in Ray Emery and Brian Boucher to replace Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki in goal as well as making a blockbuster trade to bring in defenseman Chris Pronger. Briere finished third on the team in both goals (26) and points (53) behind Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. During the 2010 playoffs, the Flyers would make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Blackhawks in six games. Briere would lead the league in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 30 points in 23 playoff games.
Briere would post the last major season of his career during 2010-11. He finished second on the team in both goals and points with 34 goals and 64 points. The Flyers made the playoffs again, but got swept by the Bruins in the second round.
The winds of change blew in Philadelphia once again as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded to the Kings and Blue Jackets respectively on June 23, 2011. The Flyers then signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, forward Jaromir Jagr, and forward Max Talbot. The team lost Chris Pronger just 13 games into the season due to post-concussion syndrome and Brzygalov’s play was wildly inconsistent, putting the Flyers season in jeopardy. 12 rookies played for the Flyers that season, with Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Matt Read all playing major roles on the team.
Briere played a lesser role on the team thanks to the hot play of the top line consisting of Hartnell, Giroux, and Jagr. He played 70 games registering 16 goals and 49 points, good enough for a three-way tie with Voracek and Simmonds. Briere still played a solid role during the playoffs, scoring 13 points in the Flyers 11 playoff games.
Briere joined teammate Claude Giroux in Germany during the 2012-13 lockout. Upon his return to the NHL, he was out of action after breaking his wrist after taking a slash to his arm. Briere managed to suit up for 34 games, though only recording six goals and 16 points. His game was noticeably slipping and his $6.5 million cap hit made him primed to be bought out of the last two years of his deal during the summer of 2013. The Flyers later used one of their two compliance buyouts on Briere.
On July 4, 2013 Briere signed a two-year, $8 million contract with his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He became the first person in NHL history to have an accent grave on his jersey. Briere suffered a concussion in mid-October which cost him over a month of the season. He returned in time to play a game in the Wells Fargo Center and was met with a standing ovation by the Flyers fans for his years of service in orange and black. Briere played 16 of the Canadiens 17 playoff games that season as they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.
Later in the summer, Briere was traded to the Colorado Avalanche on June 30, 2014. Briere played 57 games in Colorado but only scored 12 points. He was not re-signed during the summer and announced his retirement on August 17, 2015.
Danny Briere joined the Flyers front office working closely with team president Paul Holmgren to learn about the business side of hockey. In June of 2017 he was announced Briere would run the day-to-day operations of the ECHL Maine Mariners.
While it is easy to forget Briere’s stint in Arizona, he left behind a legacy and a never say die attitude. His skillset persevered and he became an icon and legend for both the Sabres and Flyers organizations, and he paved the way for many undersized players to crack the NHL lineup in the decade-and-a-half he laced his skates in the NHL.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: ibtimes.com