Philadelphia fans are tormented. Professional sports is so much a part of every day life in the city that people define many of the elements of their life such as their morals, work ethic and overall personality by the way the Philly teams play. With that said, it could be argued that the fans take things a little too seriously with their teams thus jumping to conclusions a little too quickly.
Looking for an example of the way Philly fans view the glass half empty, one need only to examine the Paul Holmgren turnaround of the Flyers last year. The organization realized mid-season–after firing their Cup-winning coach and moving hero/GM Bob Clarke upstairs–that their perennial winning franchise actually was, for the first time in a long time, lousy. In making this tough realization, the Flyers were able to pay a relatively small price to secure picks and players that built a new identity to the franchise – something the Flyers badly needed with the losses of former captains Keith Primeau and Eric Desjardins.
In came a starting goalie, Marty Biron. Gone was the big-dollar Peter Forsberg for a draft pick, the swift Scotty Upshall, and a prospect defenseman, Ryan Parent, who actually ended up playing a little bit in 2008. Ultimately, the pick from the Forsberg trade went back to Nashville and landed a the best available, puck-moving defenseman on the free agent market in Kimmo Timonen along with gritty goal scorer, Scott Hartnell – both before they made it to the open market.
The team was going to be much better, especially with the emergence of the physical giant, Braydon Coburn, who they acquired from the Thrashers, who traded their best defensive youngster (a player already at the NHL level) for an aging Alexi Zhitnik. We won’t bring up Zhitnik’s numbers from this season. We’ll only suggest that when Coburn re-signs with Philly, he might make a million dollars per year for every point Zhitnik scored for Atlanta this year.
But the unsung hero in Philadelphia as they have made the playoffs and are successfully battling Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals is, without question, Daniel Briere. Much has been made about the emergence of Mike Richards as a scorer and a future leader but it is Briere who is the Flyers’ offensive catalyst. But for some reason, he doesn’t get the respect he deserves.
Former Buffalo goalie Biron should get an assist for wooing Briere to Philly when other teams might have been willing to pay more or offer a potentially better playing situation. In Philly, the idea of playing with Simon Gagne had to be considered tempting but the new-school (read: smaller in stature with speed, skills and good hands) center lost his 50 goal scoring winger to concussions for nearly all of this season thus Briere’s numbers suffered. Most specifically, his plus minus fell from one of the best in the league to one of the worst.
Of the 72 points Briere scored this season, more than half were on the power play, meaning he did better when surrounded with more skilled players and when he wasn’t being asked to muscle people out of the offensive zone. Because of this, the rush-to-judgment Philadelphia media got on Briere’s case and wrongfully influenced fans to think they have something other than a star on their team. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, understanding the Gagne problem, went out and got Vaclav Prospal to replace Gagne at the trade deadline. And the results have been unquestionably positive.
As of the first round, the Flyers are manhandling the Washington Capitals and Daniel Briere is clearly the most skilled, most significant player on the ice for either team. That includes two players named Richards and Ovechkin who both got big, 12 year deals this year. Its time, Philly fans realize that they have something truly special on their hands with Briere. Somebody who might just show Sidney Crosby who’s boss, and send the Flyers deeper into the playoffs than any of the hockey pundits ever predicted. Stranger things have happened in the NHL playoffs and Briere is just good enough to make that happen.