What can we reasonably expect from Danny Briere in Montreal?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

As the Canadiens prepare to face the Flyers this evening, let's talk to a Flyers fan about what we can expect from Danny Briere on the Habs this season.

Did you hate the Danny Briere signing when it happened? But did you then come around after a day or so? I think it was our own Mike Obrand that said that as Habs fans, our gut reaction to any personnel move we didn't absolutely want is always "WHAT? THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD!!!" and then, once it actually settles in, we no longer think it's so bad.

I will admit to a "WHAT? THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD!!!" reaction when the signing was announced. And then, the next day, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Tyler Bozak for more money and more term, and the Briere signing turned out not to be so bad.

But is it any good?

Shortly before the preseason started, I talked to Kurt R. of Broad Street Hockey about Briere to get an idea of how he was used in Philadelphia, and how that might translate to how he'll be used here in Montreal. Sadly, I did not get a chance to post this earlier but it's still very relevant.

***

At the time that I spoke to him, we weren't even sure if Brian Gionta would be ready for the regular season or not. Now that the preseason and the annual season-opening loss to Toronto are in the books, I think it's pretty safe to say he'll be used mostly on the Desharnais-Pacioretty line, but I think Kurt's answers and insight are still a good indicator of what Habs fans can expect to see from Briere. Also I really liked his answers so, you know, read them. He kindly provided a short version for the busy and the lazy among us.

1. Had the Flyers not needed the cap space, would you have wanted him to stay in Philly? Why/why not?

First of all, you should probably never start a question to a Flyers fan with any sort of question that involves disregarding cap space. It kind of sets off fireworks in their minds a little bit.

But anyways. Taking the cap out of the equation makes it a bit tougher, but I'd still say probably not. The way his skill has fallen off, Briere was around the sixth-or-so best forward on the Flyers last year in terms of purely generating offense, and I couldn't really imagine him being any higher than that (and I'd maybe peg him a little lower) if he was hypothetically there this year. That's not really cutting it for an offense-only guy, and given his well-documented defensive problems he's not the kind of guy you want on, say, a third line that has good two-way capability, which is what the Flyers have (mostly) used their third line for ever since they got Sean Couturier two summers ago.

Also, Danny's general injury concerns (particularly, concussions in each of the last two seasons) scare me.

Short version: Nah. Not really much room for him in the Flyers' relatively crowded top-6, and if he's not a top-6 guy/not in an offensively-oriented role, he's not worth a whole lot to the team.

2. [TAS note: Again, in case you skipped straight to the questions, we talked before the preseason began.] It's looking like Brian Gionta is still going to be out for a while so we're generally speculating he'll take Gio's place alongside Plekanec. Obviously the Plekanec line would mean more defensive responsibility... I was trying to figure out if he can be relied on in his own end... or is that the funniest thing you've ever heard?

Maybe not *the* funniest thing I've ever heard, but it's probably top-10. I'm trying to think of the last time the Flyers had Briere on a line that involved some expectation of defensive responsibility and I'm drawing a blank. He spent the last two seasons playing mostly with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, two guys who are at least competent in their own end but certainly not guys who have been asked to handle especially tough defensive minutes in their times here.

So I don't know how much defensive responsibility I'd want to trust him with -- but I think you may be in trouble if the answer to that is much more than "none" based on what we've seen from him the last few years (or really ever). And I just don't have a good grasp on how capable he is of, at the very least, not being a boat anchor to a guy like Plekanec who is capable of manning tough defensive assignments, since that's not really something Danny was asked to do in his time here.

Short version: Never say never, but man, I'd feel quite nervous giving him any sort of actual defensive responsibility.

3. Another possibility being floated around is that he'll play on a line with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher (with Eller and Galchenyuk having ceased to exist, apparently). Generally when you play with Pacioretty you end up going to the net a lot. From the shot distances piece you did, this sounds like good news for us. Am I interpreting this right?

I'd think so. We've voiced concerns in the past that Briere's drop in shooting percentage the last couple of years had at least something to do with his age, but while I think that's true to an extent I definitely believe Danny can still create chances near the net, was capable of doing so last year, and kind of just had some shitty luck in the outcome phase of things. Guy took 28 shots from within 20 feet of the net last year at even strength -- including 12 from within 10 feet -- and none of them went in. I imagine if he does that again this year a few of them will find the back of the net.

Now, that said, I guess it also depends on what you mean by "go to the net" since I'm not that familiar with how things tend to look out there with the Canadiens' forwards. He's obviously not a bruiser who's gonna take a ton of hits in front of the goalie and stand there with the hope of deflecting pucks in or something, but he's shifty enough and good enough with the puck on his stick that he can make things happen down low in the offensive zone on a scoring line in the right situation.

Short version: Yeah, probably. He can still create chances with the puck near the net, even if his actual shooting talent is falling off a bit.

4. When Briere picked Philly over Montreal, the biggest reason we were bitter was that the team really needed help down the middle. Now we have a bit of a centre logjam, and I can't remember how much Briere was used as a centre and how much he was used at RW in Philly. I guess I'm asking when and with whom he's been most productive. He will very likely end up on the wing on our 2a or 2b line (yay lineblending!).

Well, the logjam-at-center situation was what some people thought was part of the problem in Philly -- that they had too many centers and Briere was blocking Schenn or Couturier from getting good minutes in that spot on the ice. I never thought that was really the concern, and obviously Paul Holmgren didn't either, because as soon as he bought out Briere he went and signed another center in Vincent Lecavalier. (Homer loves having a ton of centers, which is something I'm typically OK with.)

That said, last year the team did in fact move Briere mostly to the wing while Schenn centered the second line, and some people thought that move was a big part of Briere's struggles on the season. His last really productive year came in 2010-11 (0.88 points per game, 2.60 P/60 at 5-on-5) when he centered Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino on a scoring line, and in 2011-12 when he was somewhat productive but not as much (0.7 ppg, 1.51 P/60), he mostly had Simmonds on one wing and the other wing cycled around a bit. And then this year, as mentioned, he mostly played wing and fell off a bit (0.47 ppg, 1.28 P/60). He mostly played with Schenn and Simmonds in 2013.

You'll find some out there who blame Peter Laviolette for moving him and think the team basically ruined Briere by not playing him at center. I guess it's possible, and if they're right, then you may be in trouble if the Habs are moving him to the wing (or alternatively, you may be in for a pleasant surprise if you play him at center). That said, I'm not as convinced as others, and I think that if he felt that uncomfortable on the wing then he wouldn't have signed with a team that has an evident surplus of centers the way you guys do. As we've talked about, I'm more worried about his generally declining skill and potentially being asked to take on too much defensive responsibility than I am him feeling out of place on the wing.

Short version: he's mostly played at center and has been at his best while at center, though the only time they really had him primarily on the wing was this past year so I'd refrain from saying he's a markedly worse player there until I see it more.

5. Other than class and clutchiness, can you tell me if there are any other things that begin with 'cl' he brings to the table?

Cloverly. Like a leprechaun. Because he's short. Get it?

6. Is Danny Briere a gremlin?

See #5.

***

Now that we've seen Briere play a few games, some of the concerns I had when I spoke to Kurt are no more. For example, Michel Therrien clearly has no intention of having Briere play any defensive minutes at all, which was keeping me up at night. Also, Gionta is back, so Briere isn't going to see a lot of time on the Plekanec line, so, you know, NO DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBILITIES YAY. In addition, the EGG line is not being broken up. I don't even remember why Briere-Pacioretty-Gallagher was a speculated line at the time (scrimmages, maybe?), but thankfully, that is not happening.

We didn't talk about this that much, but it's worth keeping in mind that Briere broke his wrist when he was playing in Germany before the lockout ended, and then, later in the season, was sidelined with a concussion. So health will be a big factor in Montreal as well.

Big thanks to Kurt for taking the time to respond. Also, we love-hate Broad Street Hockey because they are awesome. As opposed to hate-hating, like, PPP, or whoever. Anyway. You should follow Kurt on Twitter. He's not a jerk.

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