Comparing Briere, Lecavalier

ASSOCIATED PRESS Canadiens center Daniel Briere celebrates a goal during second-round series against Boston.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Canadiens center Daniel Briere celebrates a goal during second-round series against Boston.
Posted: May 07, 2014

DANNY BRIERE has as many points in his first six games of the Stanley Cup playoffs as Vinny Lecavalier (2), Michael Raffl (1) and Sean Couturier (0) combined for in the Flyers' seven games against the Rangers.

With each additional point Briere nets in Montreal's playoff run, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren should cringe.

Hindsight might be 20/20, yes, but Holmgren's quick decision to cut Briere loose and sign Lecavalier to a 5-year, $22.5 million deal last summer will come back to haunt him.

Few would argue that Lecavalier has more upside than Briere. He is 2 years younger. He has won a Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal-scorer. He has over 200 more points than Briere in his career.

The only problem for the Flyers: It didn't exactly turn out that way this season.

Lecavalier, 34, finished with 20 goals and 17 assists for 37 points. Briere, 36, netted 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points. Both played the same number of games (69).

The difference is that the Flyers are left with zero contract flexibility for the next four seasons. They were one of just four teams (Toronto, Montreal, Chicago) to use both of their two allotted "amnesty buyouts" last summer, when they cut loose Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov.

With Briere, the Flyers knew his declining productivity did not match his $6.5 million salary-cap hit. If the Flyers could have just held on and been patient for this season and next season - at a significant savings since Briere's contract was front-loaded and they would have only needed to pay him a combined $5 million in real dollars - they would have kept that flexibility this summer to buy out one other bad contract free of cap implications.

Instead, they bought out one positional square peg and purchased another. Briere often professed he was a better fit at center than wing under Peter Laviolette.

In his first season with the Flyers, Lecavalier didn't really fit anywhere. He spent the first 60 games of the season at second-line left wing before finally getting his wish to play center . . . on the fourth line. He played just 75 minutes in a seven-game series with the Rangers, looking out of place and out of sync most of the time.

"He's not a fourth-line player," Holmgren said last week. "Certainly, it's pretty difficult for him to be effective at 7 or 8 minutes [per game]. He needs to play in our top nine [forwards]."

The strange thing about Lecavalier being a Flyer is that he never seemed to fit from the start. When the Flyers sweet-talked him in New York last summer, days after he was terminated in Tampa Bay with the largest buyout check in NHL history ($32.6 million), he was wooed by Laviolette.

The Flyers were one of 20 teams to express interest. They were in the hunt because, well, regardless of fit, he was the biggest name on the market. They are the Flyers. When he ended up picking Philadelphia, the Flyers' reaction had to be: "Wait, he picked us?" It surprised most everyone around the NHL.

So, Lecavalier unpacked in a new city for the first time in his 14-year career, and Laviolette was fired three games in. Then, 7 weeks later, Lecavalier fractured a bone in his lower back when he was cross-checked in Nashville.

"I don't want to say I'm disappointed in Vinny for the year, but I'm disappointed for him," Holmgren said. "I think a lot of things went against him this year. I think a lot of things Peter Laviolette said to Vinny steered him toward coming to the Flyers. And then there's a coaching change, a complete change in style.

"There were a lot of unfortunate things that went against him. But in my opinion, he's still a good player. And having said all that I just said, he still scored 20 goals, which is no small feat. Moving forward, we just need to try to figure out how things fit a little better. There are some things that I spoke to him about [last week] to try to put him in a better position to make more of an impact on our team."

Coach Craig Berube said he will evaluate Lecavalier's position based on training camp. Holmgren does not believe he has too many centers, since he's always built his team around depth at the position.

"I think it's a luxury," Holmgren said. "Obviously, somebody has got to play wing. Maybe it's not Vinny and it becomes Brayden [Schenn]."

Lecavalier is not wavering in self-confidence, not even after a trying year. All things considered, he said his family loved the move to Philadelphia.

"I believe in myself. I believe in what I can do," Lecavalier said. "I had kind of a freak injury this year with the cracked vertebrae. I believe I can bring those [big] numbers, for sure."

Similar to Briere, the Flyers cannot afford Lecavalier's $4.5 million salary-cap hit for fourth-line production. He has 4 years left on his deal now, but the leash may be short enough that this next one is his last to get it right.

With the Flyers out of amnesty flexibility, Briere's replacement needed to be fiscally conservative. The Flyers rolled the dice. Now, Lecavalier needs a bounce-back year to seemingly prevent himself from being the first player to be bought out of two contracts at the same time.

"Basically, he did have a problem this year, but it's got to be solved before next year," chairman Ed Snider said. "It's ridiculous to speculate, but Lecavalier is not a fourth-line center and we don't want him to be. But that's going to be up to the coach and the hockey department to figure out how to work that out."


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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