Is he healthy enough to play in a game?
The answer will come Wednesday night when Briere, who has missed 34 of the last 37 games and 18 straight with a severe groin strain, begins what is scheduled to be a two-game conditioning stint with the Flyers' minor-league affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League.
The Phantoms, who play across the street from the Wachovia Center in the Wachovia Spectrum, host the Worcester Sharks Wednesday and the Lowell Devils Friday.
"Everybody is talking about two games with the Phantoms, but I'm looking at the first game," Briere told NHL.com Tuesday morning after a long, on-ice workout. "I want to see how it will react and I'll go from there. If I can play another game, I'll play Friday. If not, I'll have to reevaluate."
Although Briere, who has 9 points in nine games this season, said he feels "barely any" discomfort when he goes hard in practice, as he did Tuesday following the Flyers' morning skate, he is hesitant to make any proclamations on when or even if he'll be able to return to the NHL roster.
He's already made that mistake twice.
Briere had surgery Oct. 25 to fix a torn abdominal muscle and wound up missing the next six games. He returned on Nov. 8 against Tampa Bay and scored a goal. Despite scoring again three nights later against the Islanders, he injured his groin and could not make it through the entire game.
Briere missed the next nine games before returning Dec. 2 against the Lightning. He played 7:41 that night before leaving in the second period with discomfort in the same area. He hasn't played since.
Briere is not worried about being in game shape.
"All I have been doing the past month and a half is skating 4-5 times a week, working out, riding the bike, running the treadmill," he said. "I feel like I'm in summer shape when you show up at camp and cardio-wise and strength-wise you are near the top of your game."
He's admittedly not in hockey shape, but he's more worried about his mindset than anything else.
"Most importantly it's in my head," Briere said. "I need to find out if I can compete or not."
If after two games with the Phantoms Briere feels as though he's capable of returning to the NHL, he sees no reason why it shouldn't be before the All-Star break.
The Flyers host Atlanta next Wednesday before the break.
"If I need it, I'll take that extra week, but if I'm ready to go than I'll probably give a look at that," Briere said of playing against the Thrashers.
The Flyers would have to make room to squeeze him and his salary back onto the roster. That means moving some parts off a team that enters tonight's game against Pittsburgh 4-0-2 in its last six games and in first place in the Atlantic Division.
"That's why it's important to see if he is indeed healthy," Stevens said. "If you make adjustments to get him in and then he comes back and plays one game and he's not healthy, well that's why it makes even more sense to get him in a game. The American League is a great league. It's a great opportunity for him to get back in a game to see where he's at, if he's 100 percent healthy? We'll know that after he plays a game."
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