Should the Leafs take a chance on Danny Briere if he's bought out?

Cam Charron
June 17 2013 04:47PM

Here's an interesting possibility that's come up.

The Philadelphia Flyers did Philadelphia Flyers things today, signing 36-year-old Mark Streit to a four-year contract worth $21M. It's a big number, it's four years, and we know that the Flyers can't possibly fit this team under the salary cap.

That team simply has more money than brains, and after the ill-advised decision to sign Ilya Bryzgalov two summers ago, it's looking like a certainty that he'll be out. Darren Dreger and Bob MacKenzie have each theorized that the second amnesty buy-out used by the Flyers will be on centreman Danny Briere.

I've been using a term known as "Scott Gomez disease" for a while now. Scott Gomez disease afflicts a player who is so overpaid and has such heightened expectations that when he fails to meet them, he's deemed worthless.

Two players so far have received amnesty buy-outs under the current CBA: Gomez and Wade Redden. Gomez had a $7,357,143 AAV according to Capgeek, and after being bought-out with one-and-a-half years left on the deal, Gomez' salary was cut 950% after signing a one-year, $700K deal with the San Jose Sharks.

Redden, who was making $6,500,000 a year in AAV but playing with the Hartford Wolfpack/Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League, was bought out because the New York Rangers could no longer bury his salary in the minors. He's not a bad defenceman, but signed such a silly contract that no defenceman could have lived up to. He signed in St. Louis for $1,000,000, a reduction of 550%, and wound up in Boston after the trade deadline. He's now hurt.

Here's the thing with Briere… he's coming off two bleak offensive seasons, and there shouldn't be too many teams that will line up to give him a second big contract, particularly since so many of the teams with money are going to be undergoing a cap crunch this summer.

Eric T. who contributes for NHL Numbers, wrote a post at Broad St. Hockey yesterday looking at how, in a way, looking at process is more important than looking at straight results. When you're looking at things like goal rate and point rate for forwards, you have to factor in that there's a lot of noise involved with On-ice Sh% or Individual Points Percentage. Basically, the amount of shots that go in when a player is on the ice or the percentage of goals a player records a point on. For forwards, there is some talent that you can notice, but it takes years to manifest itself.

Now, you could see Briere having put up 0.47 points per game last season, his lowest total since 2001. His 0.70 points per game rate in 2011-2012 was his third lowest since 1999. You could make the case that Briere is on the decline, but if you combine two years together with the numbers available at Hockey Analysis, I think the drop is much less pronounced:

  Flyers GF/20* Flyers SF/20* Briere On-Ice Sh% Briere IPP Briere Points/60
2008-2010 0.973 11.404 8.53% 74.2% 2.16
2009-2011 1.054 11.520 9.14% 74.1% 2.34
2010-2012 1.000 10.562 9.47% 70.3% 2.11
2011-2013 0.779 9.875 7.89% 61.5% 1.44

* - Indicates game state with Danny Briere on the ice.

Obviously, Briere is nowhere close to being a point-a-game player ever again and his days as a superstar are long gone. That said, in the absence of a lot of surefire options for a No. 1 centreman to replace Tyler Bozak (negotiations have thankfully gone South), perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs ought to kick tires at Daniel Briere. His Individual Points Percentage over the last two seasons is much lower than his norm, as is the Flyers' shooting percentage when Briere is on the ice.

Perhaps we can expect these things to dip, but given that we're combining two years of data, I'd expect a drop in those to be less pronounced. There's probably a lot of noise in the sample. Assume a regressed on-ice shooting rate of, say, 9% (I'm simply averaging the first three columns) and an IPP of 72.9%. That would raise Briere's even strength points per 60 from 1.44 to 1.95. That would be higher than every Leaf save for Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.

Furthermore, the Flyers' shots for rate with Briere on the ice over the last two years beats out every Leaf save for Lupul, van Riemsdyk and Kessel. Tyler Bozak over the same span is at 9.766 per 20 minutes. Oddly enough, Bozak is probably going to land more money on the open market than Briere because he's younger and not coming off two distinctly bad production seasons.

The questions at this point are a) will he come cheap and b) would he maybe retire if a one-year contract is the best he can do. Briere has made a lot of money since joining the Flyers so you may have to massage his competitive juices to get him back out on the ice.

I asked Eric about it, and he came up with this: "I hate speculation about when a player should or will retire, because we have no idea what his personal motivations are. But how many guys come off $50+M deals and sign for $1M on a team that isn't a top contender?"

Eric, as usual, has a point. But Briere shouldn't have too many dance partners. If he wants to play for another season or so, he may be worth taking a shot at if there aren't any clearer options available.

This is going to be an interesting process to follow. I think Briere still has one or two good years in him. Not great years, but good ones. For more on the Streit signing, Sean Gentille as the Sporting News is quick on the draw as always.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 leaferfan
June 17 2013, 05:24PM
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As a top 6 winger, Briere is not a great choice (doesn't add size/grit) and is poor defensibly. I would sign Mac before him.

As a 1C, for the same reason he is not an ideal choice. With a cheap 1 year prove me contract like Boyes of last year his contract would be tolerable. But I'm not sure Nonis is in a position to take that kind of risk if Briere has defensive lapses and continues to struggle.

That leaves him as depth signing that may slot in as 1C/3C or depth winger for PP. Again I still don't see the use. He is more of what the leafs are good at - smaller, creative and offensive gifted talent.

The leafs need more positive puck possession players that are defensively responsible and ideally can add some size to the line up. As much as we may hate Bozak, defensively Briere is a step backward that would lead to the leafs getting even further outshot.

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#2 Jon M
June 17 2013, 08:22PM
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I would take David Clarkson 10 times over before picking up Briere. We need warriors in both ends of the ice. As good as Briere could and can be (sometimes), Clarkson is consistently tough and offensively threatening. We need players like him.

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#3 caper7
June 17 2013, 08:36PM
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It's really funny. In the last article you did not want to sign the tough to play against Clarkson and you want the Leafs to sign the very small and poor defensively Briere. If the Leafs could sign either player to the same contract who would you rather? Me...Clarkson all the way. Now obviously the contracts aren't going to be the same and we are comparing apples and oranges here but we still have to look at bang for our cap dollar here. With Briere...he is small and poor defensively...doesn't play the Carlyle forecheck system. He also takes games off where you don't even notice him. I think Carlyle would loose it with him. I just don't see him fitting into the Carlyle system. We have already tried to cast players into the wrong system...see Wilson with Orr...Komi...Schenn...and so on and so on. Carlyle wants a rough and physical game. Now Clarkson fits what Carlyle wants to a T. Clarkson can score...plays a good forecheck, good defensively(comes from a solid defense first system in NJ), can play top six minutes and is a solid team player who seldom takes shifts or games off. I believe Clarkson would fit exactly what the Leafs need right now. NOW...all that said...I am not saying to go out and break the bank on this guy but I would prefer to see the Leafs sign a guy that the coach can use effectively. If...and I said IF...the Leafs could get Clarkson for under 5mill a year for 3-4 years...then go for it. He would look some good playing with Naz and Lups on that second line. That line would be a nightmare to play against. Clarkson just brings more intangibles then Briere. Also a better team fit right now.

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#4 Back in Black
June 17 2013, 10:48PM
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@caper7

I have to point out that Clarkson is 29 and didn't score at the same pace this year as last - which was a career-high 46 points. I'm sure he's good defensively, but I don't see him as an upgrade over the much younger Nik Kulemin - who has more career points in 76 fewer games.

I'd rather add him than Briere, sure, but it sounds like he's going to cost at least three times as much. If that's the price point, giving Briere an inexpensive go as a scorer on a sheltered line makes more sense.

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#5 MaxPower417
June 17 2013, 11:18PM
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Why are you guys acting like this is Clarkson vs Briere. One of those options is likely to cost north of 5 mil, the other south of 2. From a salary cap perspective they are not mutually exclusive.

That said, this is a simple exercise in value maximization. Clarkson is likely to be overpaid. Briere is likely to be underpaid. The cap is down next year. Which do you want?

I'd be interested to give Briere a shot. The talent that he possess is undeniable and I would love to see what Kessel and him can do together. Finally, from what I've watched of Briere, he may be small but he's not "soft". He's tenacious in his puck pursuit. Unfortunately, Eric from NHL numbers really does have a point, if all he's getting are lowball contracts, he's going to jump at the team most likely to go deep. Then again, I don't know Briere personally, maybe he's one of those guys that looks at the Bruins running over the rest of the competition and thinks the Leafs could have done the same thing since they took Boston to game 7 OT.

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#6 caper7
June 18 2013, 09:01AM
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@Back in Black

I absolutely agree that his salary will probably be higher then 5 mill but as I stated if the Leafs could get him for under 5 then I would take a run at him.

Also comparing Kuli to him is again comparing apples and oranges as they play a different game.

On a side note...Bob McKenzie said not too long ago that Clarkson loves the Leafs and grew up as a huge Leaf fan. I guess he idolizes Wendel Clark. I wouldn't rule out the home town discount here. He just might take a little less to play for the Leafs. But who knows only time will tell.

@MaxPower417

Briere might be tenacious for the puck in the other teams end but he does little in the defensive end. He doesn't have the size that Carlyle wants. Briere also takes shifts and games off...who needs to tie up cap room in a player like that. There is a reason why Philly is buying him out. It isn't all contract and cap room.

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#7 Adam
June 22 2013, 05:00PM
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I know Briere has been on the decline, however his numbers in the playoffs are off the charts and no one ever talks about it. Imagine what he could have done for the leafs in the playoffs. Sure he's older than most and yes he doesn't play well defensively, but he has played with JVR and Lupul and has the potential to be great with Kessel. Plus the leadership that the leafs were begging for last year and you have a pretty good combo. get him on a 2 year contract for cheap and you'll be laughing.

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