Just in case Steve Yzerman is looking, he has a perfect candidate for the water boy job with the 2014 Olympic team in Sochi. The guy is 5-foot-10 (yeah, sure he is) and 180 pounds, but looks like he’s about 14 years old.
And the best thing about Danny Briere is that if Yzerman is looking for a 13th forward to round out his roster, he would be a great addition. In fact, he could become the best playing water boy in sports history since Bobby Boucher Jr.
Seriously, though, in all the projections for Canada’s 2014 team, isn’t it about time Briere’s name at least entered the conversation? And it isn’t just because of what he’s been doing in this year’s playoffs because when it comes to games that matter, Briere is money in the bank. In fact, since the lockout, Briere has scored 47 goals and 103 points in just 98 playoff games which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is first in the NHL by a wide margin.
When asked about it, Briere is his usual self-deprecating self, saying that he’d be honored to even be the water boy for such a group.
“Really, though, when you look at all the talent in Canada at center, I don’t think I’d even crack the second squad,” he said.
And Briere may well be right. When you look at the group of centers for 2014, should the NHL choose to participate, Canada’s center ice corps boasts the likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Jason Spezza, John Tavares, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Getzlaf and Jordan and Eric Staal. That probably doesn’t leave a lot of room for Briere, but you could certainly find a place for him on either wing as the 13th forward, couldn’t you?
The reason why is that you could argue nobody in the league today delivers in big games better than Briere does. In fact, he is one of those rare players whose level of production rises in the playoffs. Only twice in his career has Briere scored more than a point per game in the regular season, but including this post-season so far, he has done it three times in the playoffs. And with 106 points in 104 career playoff games, compared to just 643 points in 813 regular season games, Briere has made it clear what time of the year is most important to him.
And what games could be more crucial than the Olympics? Playing with the best players in the world would likely make Briere that much more productive since he’s equally adept at scoring and setting up plays. And when the puck is eight feet from the net and has to get through a maze of bodies piled up in the crease, is there any other player in the league whose stick you’d rather have on the puck than Briere’s?
And it’s not as though Briere is a neophyte when it comes to international competition, either. In fact, he has been an instrumental player on three teams that have won gold medals for Canada – the 1997 world junior team and World Championship squads in 2003 and 2004, which were Canada’s first back-to-back champions since the 1950s. In 18 games in those two tournaments, Briere had six goals and 17 points.
And it doesn’t seem to matter who Briere’s linemates are. During the Flyers 2010 run to the final during which Briere scored 30 points and should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy, he played largely with Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino. In the first round of this year’s playoffs when he had five goals and eight points, he played primarily with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, before moving to a line with Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk for Game 1 of the second round, where he scored two goals, including the overtime winner.
There are several things working against Briere, of course. The first is Canada’s depth of talent at forward. The second is the fact he’ll be 36 years old when they drop the puck in Sochi and depending upon whether Jarome Iginla plays for Canada, would be by far the team’s oldest forward.
But if Briere continues to perform the way he has at the most crucial time of the year, there’s no way Yzerman can’t at least seriously consider him. Jonathan Toews essentially started the Olympics as the 13th forward in 2010 and by the end of the tournament was the team’s most valuable player. Given the same chance, Briere is certainly capable of accomplishing the same kind of thing.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.