Daniel Briere, perhaps one of the antecedents of the ‘skill over size’ era that has started recently, just retired [a while ago now]. Let’s have a look at his career (ignoring that he doesn’t meet the threshold for HOF inclusion).
- 17 seasons, 8 quality
- 307G, 389A for 696P, -24 in 973 games
- 82-game average: 26G, 33A for 59P, -2
- 3-year peak (‘05-’08): 82-game average of 36G, 54A for 90P, -1
- Playoffs: 53G, 63A for 116P, -10 in 124 games
- Adjusted: 344G, 422A for 766P
- Adjusted 82-game average: 29G, 36A for 65P
- Traded once, right before his prime.
- Scored 30 goals four times, 25 goals seven times, 20 goals eight times;
- Top 10 in goals once;
- Tallied 60 assists once, 40 assists twice;
- Top 10 in assists once;
- Top 10 in APG once;
- Scored 90 points once, 70 points twice, 60 points five times, 50 points eight times;
- Top 10 in points once;
- 2 All Star Games.
- Best Player or Best Forward on one Runner Up (‘10 Flyers), Best Player on one Final Four (‘06 Sabres), Best Skater on one Final Four (‘07 Sabres), Top 3 Forward on one Final Four (‘08 Flyers), demoted to Role Player on one Final Four (‘14 Habs)
- Top 3 Forward one two World Champions (‘03, ‘04 Canada)
- Top 3 Forward on one World Junior Champion (‘97 Canada)
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: not only does Briere not qualify for the HOF (not enough points), there’s no way he should belong. But he’s interesting. Here’s why:
First, he’s a huge “What if?” Briere played a full 82 games twice in his 17 year career. He managed to get into 81 games one more time. The number of seasons he made it into at least 75 games? Seven. Basically, he was healthy about one third of the time. It’s sure tempting to wonder what he would have been able to do had he been healthy. To temper that, I will point out that his absolute best season, when he scored at over a 1.2PPG pace, came when he managed to play 48 games (I didn’t even count it as one of his “quality” seasons above). He likely would have regressed. It’s entirely likely we saw the real Briere even though he wasn’t healthy. But it’s fun to wonder.
The other thing his career prompts: maybe ‘clutch’ does exist. There are few NHL players in recent history more “clutch” than Briere. His regular season PPG? .72. Fine, but hardly remarkable. His playoff PPG? .94. That’s a huge difference. And if you discount his two seasons with Phoenix and his final shot when he was with Montreal and they stopped playing him (when he was 22, 24 and 36 respectively), it’s 1.04. That’s almost 50% better than his career regular season PPG. For the entirely arbitrary sample of 2005 to 2011, Briere is second in playoff points, 1 behind Zetterberg. If we expand that sample to his entire career, he’s still second, this time 9 points behind Hossa. Also, in 2010 he had 30 points, only the fourth player to score 30 points in a single playoff since the first lockout (i.e. a 20 year period). (For reference, the other three are Malkin – 36 in 2009 – and Sakic – 34 in 1996 – and Crosby – 31 in 2009.)
I have argued many times that playoff points and success (and lack thereof) should not really be counted for or against Hall of Fame candidates in a 30 team league. And I’m not changing my mind. Rather, I’m curious: why was Briere so much better in the playoffs? Are there really players who legitimately rise to the challenge and was Briere one of those guys? I honestly don’t know of anyone else trusted with this much responsibility (i.e. a first line player) who was this much better in the playoffs.