When Marc Bergevin signed Daniel Briere as an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, many criticized the Montreal Canadiens’ general manager for having added yet another undersized forward. To make matters worse, Briere was coming off a highly disappointing season in which he was beginning to show signs of regression due to age and injuries. The once electrifying goal scorer for the Phoenix Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, and Philadelphia Flyers had clearly lost a step. Compounding the ire of Habs fans, Bergevin also failed to lure the bought-out Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal. At four million per year, this was no cheap tail-end-of-his-career veteran pickup either. An optimistic soul would have said that Briere still had game and that his injury troubles had hindered his recent production. On the flip side of that view, one could say that this is what happens to most veterans at the end of their careers: they start getting hurt and not really playing all that well.
Unfortunately for all parties involved, the latter of those two views seems to be winning out on Briere’s tenure thus far in Montreal.
With 5 goals, 5 assists, one concussion, and 26 games played this season, Briere has been a shell of the guy that we once expected 30 goals from on a regular basis. It’s not just that his offensive production has slipped, some games it can take about a period to even notice that he’s playing. Granted, being given under 5 minutes of ice time like he was in Tuesday’s game against Phoenix doesn’t help, but Michel Therrien stating over and over that he’s going with the guys that are going to help the team win pretty much translates to,”I don’t think giving Daniel Briere adequate ice time will help this team win” (rough translation). Which is a real shame, because anyone who has followed Briere throughout his career knows he really cares about his team and his own performance. Given his 4 million dollar salary for not doing all that much though, it’d be a surprise if he’s too heartbroken about the situation.
The good news for Briere is that there is still plenty of hockey left to be played this year, and also an Olympic break which could give his aging body the boost it needs to finish the season strong. Looking at his teammate David Desharnais should also provide some optimism for him, as Desharnais had a putrid end to last season and a pretty much invisible beginning to this campaign, yet managed to turn it around and is now producing again on Montreal’s top line. Unfortunately, for Briere though, Montreal is deep at forward and unless a major injury occurs, it’s difficult to envision him cracking into serious top-six minutes anytime soon. If Michel Therrien and his staff really want to see production out of the Gatineau native, they need to at least give him a shot on one of those two top lines, and even some power play time. Without that, Briere’s strengths simply don’t do anything for a third or fourth line, which is exactly the role he is being asked to play right now. It’s not that hard to imagine him being effective in a sort of power play specialist role given all the talent he has, where it would at least be put to use.
Marc Bergevin has proven to be a capable manager in his nascent Montreal career, but as of right now, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Briere signing will be the first of a hopefully short list of managerial missteps.