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Daniel Briere ready to lead Philadelphia Flyers back to playoffs

Briere and the Sabres exposed the Flyers as a slow, sluggish group and eliminated them in the 2006 playoffs. Then Buffalo embarrassed them in an eight-goal win early last season that was the catalyst for a massive Philadelphia shakeup.

None of it deterred Briere when it came to signing with the Flyers as a free agent.

Instead of returning to Buffalo, where he was a co-captain and fan favourite for the winningest team in the NHL, Briere opted to sign with the worst team in the league.

"You have to look deeper than that," Briere said Thursday. "You have to look at the players that are going to be with you the next three, four, five years. When you look at the young group or core players, that's what I got excited about."

While the Sabres lost Briere and fellow co-captain Chris Drury to the New York Rangers, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has been active since the all-star break in making moves that could turn Philadelphia back into a playoff team in a hurry.

The Flyers (22-48-12) missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994 and set team records for most losses and fewest points (56).

"They were the best fit, the best organization and the team that committed to winning the most," Briere said. "I don't think money was an issue at all."

Signing Briere to a US$52-million, eight-year contract last week to fill the No. 1 centre spot addressed the final, pressing need the Flyers had leading up to training camp. Now, all Briere has to do is show he is worth the money.

"You've got to perform," he said. "The only way to do that is by working on the ice."

The five-foot-nine, 177-pound Briere blossomed with the Sabres after an underwhelming start to his career in Phoenix. He never scored more than 60 points in his first five-plus seasons with the Coyotes, then broke out with 92 goals and 138 assists in 225 games with the Sabres.

Briere played in his first NHL all-star game this season and was named the game's MVP. He has also produced in the clutch, scoring 10 game-winning goals over the last two seasons.

Holmgren talked with the agents for centres Drury and Scott Gomez, who each signed with the Rangers, but had long decided that Briere was a better fit on a line that will include Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble. The Flyers played most of last season without a true No. 1 centre once Peter Forsberg was injured, then traded to Nashville in the first major move of Holmgren's tenure.

"We needed a guy that is competitive, we needed a guy that can score us goals, we needed a guy that can be creative on the power play," Holmgren said. "Danny fits all those categories for us."

Perhaps Briere can add instant fan favourite to his list of accomplishments. Fans lined up at the Flyers' practice facility in New Jersey and Briere, wearing his No. 48 sweater, willingly signed autographs and posed for pictures.

While all this enthusiasm seemed incomprehensible in January, the additions of defencemen Kimmo Timonen and Jason Smith, forwards Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall, and goalie Martin Biron have shown the Flyers are serious about proving last year was an aberration and not the start of an extended period in the cellar.

Holmgren provided coach John Stevens with all the pieces to compete in the Eastern Conference. Now, Stevens has to figure out how they all fit, something that wasn't lost on Briere.

"How's it going to mesh? I don't know," Briere said. "What I expect with this team, when I look at the roster, is to make the playoffs."

Certainly for $52 million, the Flyers are expecting the same.


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