In the weeks leading up to the July 1 free-agent signing period, the Philadelphia Flyers
were analyzing whether Daniel Briere
, Chris Drury
or Scott Gomez
best fit into their lineup. At the same time, Briere was conducting an investigation of his own into the merits of Philadelphia as a hockey destination.
First, Briere called Flyers goaltender and former Sabres teammate Martin Biron, who was traded to the Flyers late last season. Then, he called Flyers defenseman Denis Gauthier, a former junior teammate with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I wanted to know what the players had to say,” Briere said. “Every single one of them had nothing but positive things to say about the Flyers organization, the coaching staff and the way they were treated."
In the end, Briere says the Flyers' willingness to turn a last-place team into a Stanley Cup contender is what tipped the scales away from the Montreal Canadiens, who reportedly offered him $42 million for five seasons, and toward the Flyers, who signed the 29-year-old center to an eight-year deal worth $52 million.
“What I was looking for was the best fit, the team that was committed to winning the most," Briere said. "I don't think money was an issue at all.”
Maybe not, but earning $10 million this season -- the most by a Flyer since the ill-fated signing of Chris Gratton a decade ago -- carries responsibilities that can weigh heavily on a player who has never recorded more than 32 goals or 95 points.
“I know it's a lot of money, a lot more money than I ever thought I'd be making in a game I love,” Briere said. "Obviously, you've got to perform and the only way to do that is to work on the ice. There are no other secrets to it.”
Briere’s off-season workouts for the Flyers began, of all places, in front of his television set. A few days after signing his contract he asked the Flyers’ video coordinator, Adam Patterson, to provide him with a tape highlighting the goals Briere’s two most likely linemates -- Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble -- scored last season when they were paired with center Peter Forsberg.
“I studied all their tendencies,” Briere said. “I did some homework this summer so I could get a feel for how they play. I’m not going to compare myself to Forsberg, but I did watch the little things they did on the ice, where they like to hang out. It’s pretty cool I get to start (training camp) with Mike and Simon.”
Some pundits in Philadelphia already are dubbing the Knuble-Gagne-Briere trio as the KGB Line. Gagne said he sees some similarities in the styles of Briere and Forsberg; but labels Briere more of a goal scorer than Forsberg.
“The difference is Danny is going to play 82 games and Peter played maybe 50 games (last year),” Gagne said.
Eight of those 82 games promise to hold a little more importance for Briere since they’ll be against his former co-captain in Buffalo -- and current New York Ranger -- Chris Drury.
The Rangers and Flyers play twice in the preseason and eight more times in the regular season. And if preseason prognosticators are on the money, the two teams may meet up again in this year’s playoffs, creating an interesting line matchup of Drury vs. Briere.
"We already talked about that," Briere said. "I'm excited about the rivalry. I can't wait to be part of it and start hating the Rangers like everybody else."
Of course, there is something Drury has that Briere has always wanted -- a Stanley Cup ring.
"I want one, too," said Briere. “I'm desperate to get one also."
Briere enjoyed his finest NHL season last year, finishing with career highs in goals (32), assists (63), points (95) and plus-minus (plus-17). His climb from being an underachiever to one of the Lague's best small forwards -- he's barely 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds -- is a credit to Briere’s persistence and resiliency.
As an 18-year-old phenom, Briere led the Quebec League with 67 goals and 163 points, but he was passed over 23 times before the Phoenix Coyotes took him with the 24th pick overall.
Briere's NHL career started slowly in Phoenix, where he bounced back and forth from Springfield of the American Hockey League and managed just 10 goals in his first three seasons with the Coyotes. Briere even passed through NHL waivers at one point.
"I was 20, 21, 22 and I looked to direct the fault somewhere else," Briere said. "I did that until I realized I was the one not putting all the effort in the right places. The most important part was having fun playing again. That's when everything started to change."
Briere had a breakthrough season with Phoenix in 2001-02 with 32 goals and 60 points, but was traded the following season to Buffalo, where the Sabres were in the beginning of a rebuilding phase.
Last year, the Sabres won the Presidents’ Trophy with a franchise-record 113 points, but they were knocked out by the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals. Briere said he sees similarities between the Sabres of 2004 and the Flyers of today.
"When I came to Buffalo, we were near the bottom and we had to improve together," he said. "I have a feeling the same thing is happening here. It was so much fun to be part of a team that everybody was excited about. I'm hoping we can create that same excitement, but take it to that last step we weren't able to reach with the Sabres.
“It’s a new season and I’m excited about this team. Hopefully, it won’t take too long to get on the same page and, if we do, we’ll be in good shape. We don’t know how long it will take to adapt to the system and get chemistry going, but with the players we have in this room I believe we can be a very strong team right off the bat.”
ATLANTIC RUMBLINGS: Many believe the talent-rich Penguins might have gotten the sleeper of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft when they selected center Angelo Esposito with the 20th pick overall.
Esposito is impressing the Penguins with his offensive prowess around the net, scoring a penalty-shot goal in his first scrimmage. Esposito was forced to sit out the recently completed Super Series between Canada and Russia with a groin strain and is just now getting back to speed.
“It’s my first time skating this hard in about a month,” Esposito said. “Obviously, it’s a tougher atmosphere here. I am having fun and moving around and happy I am feeling better. I wouldn’t say my groin is 100 percent, but I am ready to play.”
Esposito has been playing on a line with Maxime Talbot and Adam Hall.
It should come as no surprise Scott Gomez is centering the Rangers’ top line with Jaromir Jagr on his right and Marcel Hossa on his left. There is talk of the Rangers signing goaltender Robert Esche as a backup to Henrik Lundqvist. Esche was not re-signed by the Flyers and spent the first half of September working out with the Penguins on an invite from former Flyers teammate Mark Recchi.
Recently retired goaltender Mike Dunham has been named the goalie coach on Long Island. Former Senators center Mike Comrie has been explosive in training camp scrimmages with four goals in two games. Prospect Steve Tambellini looks like he may be due for a breakthrough season. He netted three goals and an assist in two games, while Josef Vasicek looked strong on a line with Tambellini and Miro Satan, netting two goals in two games.