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Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere is congratulated by the bench after scoring against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup final hockey series in Philadelphia, June 2, 2010. (JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)
Philadelphia Flyers' Danny Briere is congratulated by the bench after scoring against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup final hockey series in Philadelphia, June 2, 2010. (JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

Briere investment paying off for Flyers Add to ...

Yes, that is Philadelphia Flyers centre Daniel Brière who has edged his way up to second place in NHL playoff scoring. A gracious but diminutive 5-foot-6 player - so petite that fellow munchkin Theo Fleury once scoffed: "I could eat an apple off his head."

Still, small is just a state of mind to Brière these days, who is finding ways of making a big splash in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Brière is a rare type, someone with better postseason than regular-season scoring numbers - usually a sign of a player with the ability to rise to the occasion rather than be overwhelmed by it. Last Saturday's Game 1 of the final series against the Chicago Blackhawks was a reasonable case in point: All the talked-about stars on both sides struggled (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter). Brière, meanwhile, quietly put up a three-point night.

Then, with the Flyers' season on the line in Game 3 on Tuesday, Brière (and linemates Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino) essentially saved the day.

Brière scored the first goal, set up the overtime winner, was on the ice for Hartnell's power-play marker, and relentlessly produced for a squad that would been sunk long ago without his team-leading 11 goals.

It is an odd trio, a line assembled by head coach Peter Laviolette out of desperation following late-season injuries to Simon Gagné and Jeff Carter.

"When he put us together, there were so many injuries that that's just what was left," Brière said in his self-deprecating way. "Ville had been a scratch. I'd played wing most of the year. Scotty had a lot of struggles.

"It was three guys who were searching for themselves at that point. Sometimes, chemistry's a weird thing. It's something you can't explain. When things like that happen, you try to ride the wave. You don't ask questions. You just sort of play."

Financially, Brière's value to the Flyers is difficult to judge because frankly, it is difficult for any player on such a generous salary (eight years, $52-million) to return value.

Brière joined the Flyers in the summer of 2007, part of general manager Paul Holmgren's massive and expensive rebuild after Philadelphia bottomed out as the 30th best team in 2006-07. Brière, Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen all earned huge contracts that summer, and, on one level, helped do what was asked of them.

The Flyers went from ridiculously inept to curiously competitive in just a year, giving hope to other teams - that you didn't need to indefinitely wallow at the bottom of the standings in order to make it back into contention, provided your ownership is willing to spend to the limit.

The watershed year for both organizations was probably June of 2007, when the Blackhawks and Flyers selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the annual entry draft, the NHL's reward for true, determined incompetence. (Chicago moved up from fifth last by winning the draft lottery.) And now, in a few days time, one of these previous sad sacks will hoist the Stanley Cup.

If Brière continues to be the engine driving the offence, the dollars spent ($10-million the first year, $8-million last year, another $8-million this year) won't seem nearly as unsightly as they did at different times in his Philadelphia tenure, especially in Year 2, when he was fighting injuries seemingly all season.

Players in Brière's category are often in a no-win situation in the salary-cap era. Whenever they fail to produce big numbers, there is a natural tendency to wonder about buyers' remorse, small fortunes invested in what usually prove to be lifetime contracts.

Chicago has its own answers to Brière - Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa, both of whom gobble up huge amounts of its salary-cap space. Hossa had a productive first two games of the Stanley Cup final, but was quiet in Game 3; Campbell's overall impact has been more negligible.

Brière believes the chance to shift back to centre made all the difference to him this season - there is more room in the middle of the ice for free-wheeling, plus a greater comfort level, playing a position with which he's more familiar.

"It's just a playoff run, but at the same time, this is one of the best times of my life," Brière said. "I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible and not think about the contract issue or anything like that. I'm just going out there and having fun and playing right now."

Playing well enough for the Flyers to earn a significant return on their investment in him, if they happen to come all the way back in this series again.

 

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