Despite the odds, Briere hopes to remain a Flyer

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Despite the odds, Briere hopes to remain a Flyer

VOORHEES, N.J. -- While the Flyers cleaned out their lockers, packed up their equipment and met with the team’s coaching staff, a small but dedicated group of fans waited in the parking lot outside Skate Zone.

Most of them were wearing or holding Danny Briere’s No. 48 sweater, hoping to shake the hand or get the autograph of the longtime fan favorite who has likely played his last game with the Flyers.

Briere, 35, is a probable victim of the NHL’s new CBA. Two years remain on his contract, and with a cap hit of $6.5 million for each, he is arguably too expensive to keep around.

The league’s salary cap goes down to $64.3 million next year, from $70.4 million this season. Right now, the Flyers have exactly $0 free under the cap; something’s got to give.

Briere, though he knows there’s a very big chance to the contrary, doesn’t want the casualty to be him.

“I hope not,” he said, at Sunday’s team break-up day. “At this point, it’s out of my control. We’ll see what happens, but I certainly hope I’ll still be here.”

Briere had a rough season in 2013. He scored just six goals (16 points) in 36 games and was a minus-13, missing the beginning of the season because of a fractured wrist and sustaining a concussion in practice earlier this spring.

Because of his impressive playoff performance last spring (eight goals and 13 points in 11 games), it’s easy to forget that Briere struggled in 2011-12, too. He went a stretch of 23 games without a goal, and was visibly frustrated as he fought to get back on track.

But that doesn’t mean the veteran forward is without value. The Flyers would lose a lot by buying out his contract or even trading him to a willing partner.

“A leader, a class act in the community, great teammate and a guy that can score goals,” Scott Hartnell said. “He’s obviously been one of our most consistent guys the past six years. Who knows what is going to happen?”

As of Sunday, Briere said he had not been approached by general manager Paul Holmgren about the possibility of waiving his no-movement clause. While so much focus has been on whether the Flyers might use one of their two amnesties on him, it’s entirely possible they could attempt to trade him to a team with cap space and a need for leadership. There are more than a few of those.

Briere didn’t say he’d refuse to be traded; he just made it very clear he’d prefer to stay in Philadelphia.

“I’ve said it all along: My family’s here, my kids are here,” Briere said. “This is my first choice, this is where I want to be. But I understand it’s a business, so we’ll see happens with that. My first goal is to be here.”

A class act and friend to the media, Briere has been candid all season long about his struggles on the ice and the possibility of this being his final season in an orange and black jersey.

He’s clearly disappointed by the way things currently stand, but having been in the NHL for 15 seasons, he recognizes the reality that the new CBA and shrinking salary cap create. That goes for the frequent questioning by reporters, too, about what it all means for his future. Briere has answered those all season long with patience and class.

“I understand it,” he said. “It’s part of the business. It’s not fun, it’s not easy. But I see it as the trade rumors. I’ve been through them before in my career. I try to approach it the same way. But I also understand it’s part of the game. With the new CBA, that’s the thing that came out with the buyouts. Unfortunately, I could be one of the guys that pays the price for it.

“I’ve also said before that there’s also so many good things that have happened over the course of my career with the CBA, because of the CBA, that it wouldn’t be right to complain about it.”

And so, he hasn’t. Despite his struggles, Briere, who serves as an alternate captain, has continued to be the consummate teammate.

Team captain Claude Giroux, of course, lived with Briere and his sons in Haddonfield, N.J., early on in his career with the Flyers. After he left, Sean Couturier moved in. Briere's loss would be a large one, especially to the Flyers' younger players, but Giroux understands the big decisions that management must make.

“That’s the tough part of hockey,” Giroux said. “You get close with some of the guys on the team, and the next year they’re gone. Obviously, it’s the business part of it, but you just need to understand it.”

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – They won the battle inside the faceoff circle. Outshot their opponent badly. Blocked more shots, too.

And the Flyers still lost. Sound familiar?

Saturday's 4-2 defeat (see Instant Replay) to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series outdoor game likely confirms for general manager Ron Hextall it’s time to be a seller at the trade deadline with a playoff berth seemingly out of sight.

"We gotta score goals. We got good opportunities, but it’s getting old," Jakub Voracek lamented. "If we don’t find a way to win a game, nobody cares."

Not enough scoring from their pop-gun offense, which now has just 25 goals over their last 16 games. Which is a major reason why they've lost seven of their last nine.

"It's that cliché, gripping your stick and I don’t like to use that," Voracek said. "The bottom line, if we want to make the playoffs we got to score the goals. We're not scoring."

It was 36 degrees at puck drop and there were swirling wind gusts. Players said the first period was tough, but they adjusted as the game went on.

"It feels good. It feels awesome," Wayne Simmonds said. "It's the way ice hockey should be played."

That good feeling didn't translate to offense Saturday. They played well enough to win but ...

"We got to get going here," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We're [five] points back and that's the biggest thing and it's in all of our heads now. It's getting down to not a lot of games left and we've got to get two points."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth did not have a strong game facing 29 shots.

"We walk away with the wrong result," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a day in-between to turn the page and get back at it."

Things began Pittsburgh's way with Sidney Crosby scoring at 11:18, sneaking to the low right slot near the goal line to take a perfect pass from Jake Guentzel and one-time into the far side on Neuvirth for his 34th goal.

Brayden Schenn, centering a new line with Nick Cousins and Jakub Voracek, had a solid scoring chance in the final minute of the period, but Pens goalie Matt Murray turned his shot aside. Murray also had two good saves on Sean Couturier earlier from in tight.

Nick Bonino, one of the heroes from the Stanley Cup Final last season, made it 2-0 at 6:44 of the second period on the power play. He scored almost from the same spot where Crosby scored.

Minutes earlier, Guenztel took a questionable hit to the head area from Brandon Manning which the Penguins felt was illegal (see video). Pittsburgh came back with Chris Kunitz rocking Ivan Provorov two shifts later.

Manning’s hit energized the Flyers, who owned the second period.

Hours before the game, Voracek said what most people were already thinking.

"I would expect this to be the biggest game of the year," he said. "You look at the standings. We can’t afford to lose."

Voracek wasn't kidding when he said the Flyers needed to do something here. He went behind the net 4-on-4 with Justin Schultz and came around the front with the puck to muscle it past Murray at 11:14, cutting the Flyers deficit in half.

Voracek's goal, his second in three games, gave the Flyers even more of a lift and they made a strong push to tie the game before the period ended.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone and we were very strong on the forecheck," Voracek said. "We had comebacks early in the season … but two penalties in the end, it's tough … How do you rebound? You have no choice. We're not out. We have to start winning."

The Flyers killed off a carryover penalty to start the third but immediately after, the Pens got a strong forecheck with Eric Fehr behind the net, getting the puck over to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who snuck up on Neuvirth and stunned him with a wraparound.

That was a terribly costly goal and made it 3-1, but Gostisbehere got it right back minutes later with his first goal in 34 games off a point shot during the power play.

It was as close as the Flyers got. Pittsburgh scored off a faceoff to make it 4-2 in the final six minutes. Sean Couturier lost a draw to Evgeni Malkin and the Pens scored off a point drive Neuvirth couldn't find.

"That was deflating," Gostisbehere said. "We can be sad for ourselves all we want … bad bounces or we can say, 'well, it's lucky.' But you know, it keeps happening for a reason."