had the best -- and worst -- seat in the house for 53 Philadelphia Flyers
games last season.
That's how many he was forced to miss due to a pair of surgeries needed to repair torn abdominal muscles.
He did score 11 goals in the 29 games he was able to play, but he was far from the player who had more than 30 goals each of the previous two seasons.
Briere first suffered the injury in late October, and when it didn't heal after a few days of rest, he had surgery Nov. 11 that sidelined him for a month. In his first game back he re-injured himself, needed a second surgery, and was out until March.
All the while, Briere seethed because he had to watch games rather than play in them.
"It was way tougher watching the games then what I had to go through as far as rehab and all that stuff," he told NHL.com. "Feeling like you should be out there…when you feel like you should be out there playing and you have to watch and not be able to do anything about it, that's way tougher than having to rehab."
As hard as it was for Briere to watch, he also had to deal with near-constant criticism from the fickle Philadelphia fans. They looked at Briere's extended absence, and rather than wait patiently for his return, saw him and the eight-year, $52 million contract he signed in July 2007 as an obstacle to making the team better.
Briere said he heard and read the nastiness, but said no one wants him to succeed more than he does.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," said Briere. "I know I can be that player I was two years ago and in Buffalo. That's what's pushing me to get back to where I was. I want to prove it to myself and I know I can do it. Hockey is a business, 'What can you do for me now?' People don't care what you did two years ago or last season. Things start to go well and you go on a roll, people will forget what happened last year. That's the way I approach the season. I want to get it done and I know I will."
"Those kinds of comments can be hurtful," Flyers coach John Stevens
told NHL.com, "but Danny's passion and drive is to help the team and help the organization that brought him here. He wants to help this team win. He was brought here to win a championship. He knows he was brought here to do that and he wants to do everything in his power to do that."
Stevens said he empathized with the frustration Briere felt last season, but has reminded Briere how important he is to the team heading into the 2009-10 season.
"I think it's going to mean a lot," Stevens said of having a healthy Briere this season. "If you look at our team, with (Mike) Knuble and (Joffrey) Lupul moving on, I think it's going to be important for Danny to be healthy. He's a veteran guy on our team that we count on heavily and having him healthy will be big for us."
Briere has played center most of his NHL career, but the Flyers are stacked down the middle with Jeff Carter
, Mike Richards
, newly acquired Ian Laperriere
and Claude Giroux
, who emerged as a scoring sensation in the middle in Briere's absence. With the departures of Lupul and Knuble, the team's top two right wings last season, Stevens said Briere will see most of his time this season there.
"I know Danny's played the wing before in Buffalo," said Stevens, who also has played Briere on the wing on lines centered by Richards and Giroux. "I think he's going to be an effective guy we can count on."
"I'm excited for Danny. I think Danny is going to have a great year. He was frustrated last year and kept trying to get back and hit road block after road block. I'm excited for him. He's healthy, he's trained hard, and I think his play is going to be indicative of where he is physically."
-- John Stevens
In the middle or along the wall, it doesn't matter to Briere, as long as he's playing.
"We've had a few talks about that," said Briere. "I made that perfectly clear with John, that I don't care playing center or the wing, whatever he feels is going to help the team the most. I don't have a problem either way. I'll let him decide what he feels is going to be best for the team. I honestly don't care at all."
To that end, he returned to Philadelphia earlier than usual this summer to spend extra time working with Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin.
"It was mostly about quickness, plyometrics," said Briere. "I have to get my quickness and strength back in that (groin) area. Being a smaller player, that's how I get by. I have to find a way to get away from the big guys. If I don't have the quickness, it takes away one of the most important parts of my game."
Knowing the player's character, Stevens has little doubt Briere will return with a vengeance this season.
"I'm excited for Danny," Stevens said. "I think Danny is going to have a great year. He was frustrated last year and kept trying to get back and hit road block after road block. I'm excited for him. He's healthy, he's trained hard, and I think his play is going to be indicative of where he is physically."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com