Daniel Briere was signed by the Montreal Canadiens this past summer to a two year contract that will see him earn 4 million each season. The day he was signed, Habs general manager Marc Bergevin said there are players that get you to the playoffs and players that get you through them.
Coming off a 16 point regular season with the Philadelphia Flyers, but having scored 109 points in 108 career NHL playoff games, it was evident Bergevin was referring to Briere as a player who could help get the Canadiens through the NHL postseason.
Well here we are, eight games in to the 2014 postseason, the Habs are tied at two games apiece with the Boston Bruins, and Briere has been mostly ineffective.
His regular season was as abysmal as his final season in Philadelphia. Briere scored 25 points in 69 games, and was relegated to mostly fourth line duty toward the end of the season.
The fourth line is where Briere has found himself throughout the postseason, playing alongside Dale Weise and either Michael Bournival or Travis Moen. The line has been good, but is just not a great fit for the small Briere. His skills have diminished to the point where he was not be trusted to take top six minutes away from any of the current Canadiens top forwards in the regular season.
There is just no way Briere can bump David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Thomas Vanek, Tomas Plekanec or Brendan Gallagher for ice time. That leaves one more spot in the top six, on the left wing of a line centered by Plekanec. Brandon Prust started the postseason there but was recently bumped for rookie Michael Bournival.
Bournival has played a great two way game all season, and even though he was outscored by Briere this season, Bournival has been a much better fit on the line, thanks to his speed and defensive game.
Plekanec is the Habs best defensive forward, and thus anyone on his line will be counted on to shut down the opponent’s best players. This is not the best spot for Briere, as his defensive game and turnovers have been among the worst on the Habs roster.
This leaves Briere centering the fourth line, an odd fit for someone with such a weak defensive game. In a series against the Boston Bruins, the ideal fourth line center would be a dependable defensive player who can win faceoffs and is not afraid to play physical. That is definitely not a description of Daniel Briere.
Briere does have four points in eight playoff games, ranking him seventh on the Habs, tied with linemate Dale Weise. He has averaged 10:26 of ice time per game in the postseason, which is the least of all Canadiens. The veteran forward came to the Habs with a “clutch” label and one of the best playoff resumes of all current NHLers. Of his four points, two have come in overtime, showing his penchant for timely points has not completely faded with time.
The way I see it, Briere is being misused as a fourth line center, and there are only two options that make sense. Put him on the wing on Plekanec’s line, or bench him altogether.
Plekanec is currently on a line with Bournival and Vanek, so a Briere promotion would knock Bournival back to the fourth line. However, Plekanec plays far too many defensive situations to be flanked by Vanek and Briere, perhaps the Habs least defensive minded players. Vanek could be moved back to the top line with Desharnais and Pacioretty, while Gallagher moves back to Plekanec’s wing with Briere.
There is plenty of risk in a Briere promotion, but he has three even strength points in just over 70 minutes of ice time in this postseason. That is 2.56 points per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time, one of the best ratios on the Habs roster. Combine this with his past, and recent penchant for scoring points in big moments, and a promotion over Bournival should be in order.
With the Habs heading into tonight’s game 5 in a tied series, and having been shut out 1-0 in overtime on home ice in game 4, perhaps a bit of an offensive risk is not a bad idea.
Then there is the perspective from the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps Briere can not handle playing with Plekanec and being matched up against either Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci. Also, he does not make sense as a fourth line center, and no one in their right mind would break up the Eller line right now.
This leads one to believe Briere should be scratched in favor of a more defensive center, such as Ryan White.
White would be an ideal player to have centering a fourth line in this series. He won 50.8% of his draws in the regular season, compared to Briere’s 48.9%, and would thrive in a physical environment like this one. White had the third most hits per game among Habs forwards in the regular season, and no longer takes undisciplined penalties that he was once known for. In 52 games this season, White had just 10 minor penalties.
My opinion is that Briere should be given a shot on a line with Plekanec. Worst case scenario is it does not work, so he then shifts back to the fourth line mid-game, and is replaced by Bournival. He could then be replaced by White for a pivotal game 6.
Briere has well over 100 points in his playoff career, and though many of those points are long in the past, he is among Habs points per minute played leaders right now.
This is while playing on the fourth line, and if given a chance with better offensive linemates in Plekanec and Gallagher, Briere may push the Canadiens over the Bruins in the next few days. Briere had his best offensive stretch of the season while on a line with Plekanec and Gionta, and could catch fire if given top six minutes and capable offensive linemates.
The playoffs are what Briere was brought to Montreal for, so why not give him the opportunity to be a difference maker in this series?