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NHL Trade Deadline: Danny Briere back to the desert?

Could the former Coyote sparkplug be on the move from Montreal? And would he be a piece to provide value for the rest of the season for a Coyote playoff push?

Would this look good in Sedona Red?
Would this look good in Sedona Red?
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

While glancing around the interwebs today, I came across an interesting piece on from Hockey Prospectus writer Matthew Coller about trade deadline fixes for Pacific Division teams (warning, insider account needed).

In his article, Coller states that the Coyotes could use another top-six forward, preferably a winger to add to Mike Ribeiro, which, after watching Brandon McMillan in that role last night, elicited a "no duh".

Coller's proposed fix is Daniel Briere, which is fascinating because Briere is struggling this season in Montreal after his production dropped off dramatically last season in Philly.  The Coyotes were one team in the race for Briere's services this season after he was bought out by the Flyers becoming a free agent, but he opted to return to his home province in Canada.  The question becomes, would Briere be a fit in Phoenix and would he actually help the Coyotes down the stretch?

To start with, let's look at Briere's current contract situation.  He's in the first year of a two-year, $8 million deal he signed in the offseason, so there is a fairly significant financial obligation, especially for a guy on the wrong side of 35.  According to Cap Geek, almost all of the players in his comparable salary range are younger than him with the exception of the unfortunately injured Marc Savard and the ageless immortal, Jaromir Jagr. However, the new CBA allows Montreal to retain up to 50% of Briere's cap hit in a trade.

Briere also has a no movement clause and a no trade clause attached to this deal, so he would have to want out of Montreal for the trade to even be possible and given he specifically chose to play there, that may not happen.

For a Coyotes team that appears to be on the verge of having a glut of talented young forwards with some offensive ability come to the NHL soon (Max Domi, Henrik Samuelsson, Lucas Lessio, Laurent Dauphin and Tobias Rieder), would adding a high cost, declining stats wing be a wise decision?

It depends on what you want Briere to be.  Any idea that Briere is the same player he was at his peak in Buffalo with the Sabres or in his first few seasons in Philly is ludicrous.  However, could Briere still be a useful forward for a team struggling to score consistently?  His current numbers suggest it is a possibility.

Briere has 11 goals and 10 assists on the season in 48 games, not great numbers, but a closer look at some advanced stats goes a ways toward explaining those numbers.

While with the Flyers, Briere's offensive zone start percentage was over 50%, including a mind boggling 65.2% in the 2012 playoffs. He was also on the ice for almost half of all the Flyers powerplay time.  In Montreal this season, Briere is starting only 42.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone, which is a big drop from even last seasons' 51.5%.  He's also on the ice for less than a third of the Canadiens' total powerplay time this year, seeing the ice for 31.7% of Montreal's time with the advantage.  His total ice time has gone down this year as well, playing less than 14 minutes a game while being asked to be a depth scorer instead of an offensive driver. His Corsi and Fenwick numbers aren't very good, but they are in line with the numbers he was producing the last two years in Philly.

One number that is encouraging this season is his shooting percentage. He's got 11 goals on 79 shots for a 13.9% shooting percentage, which is much better than the career worst 6.9% he posted last year.  His PDO on the season is 102.8, which is a little high, but not out of the ordinary. Put him on Mike Ribeiro's wing, and the increase in talent from him to McMillan or David Moss is an immediate improvement for the Coyotes, and he could add another proven producer to a powerplay that has been much improved already this season.  Heck, he just added two goals and an assist in less than 10 minutes of ice time against the Penguins in his last game.

Briere's true value in coming back to Phoenix might be in what he brings in the playoffs were the Coyotes to make it there with him. Briere has always had some good regular season numbers, but his only great regular season was in 2006-07, his final year in Buffalo.  He posted 32 goals and a career high 63 assists for 95 points, easily his best ever production.  For his career in the regular season, Briere has averaged .331 goals per game, .428 assists per game and .760 points per game.  Contrast that to his playoff performances, where Danny averages .463 gpg, .546 apg and 1.009 ppg.  Obviously, it's a smaller sample size than his regular season numbers, but there is something to be said for bringing in a player who averages a point per game in the playoffs in over 100 career second season contests (109 points in 108 career playoff games).  Briere has always had another gear for big games, and that kind of scoring acumen in pressure situations is exactly what this Coyotes team could use for their stretch run.

Whether Briere is even a realistic option (the no trade clause is a real monkey wrench), the question is would he be a fit?  Coller posits this in the article:

The price might be only a mid-round draft pick and the reward could be the former Sabres captain finding his scoring touch again and scoring big goals down the stretch.

That seems a reasonable price for what Briere could bring.  Would he be able to flash his old self skating with Ribeiro and Doan?  Could he add even more pop to a rapidly improving powerplay?  Would his leadership and big game experience help in the fight for the final wild card spot?  Or his $4 million a year salary too much to take on for team looking to bring up younger players in the near future?  Would you like to see Briere back in a Coyote sweater?