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.”

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers (15-10-3) vs. Oilers (14-10-4)
7 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live at 6:30

The hottest team in the NHL will meet the hottest young star on Thursday night when the Flyers host the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. McDavid and Co.
The Flyers are going for their seventh consecutive victory, which would tie their longest winning streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when they also won seven in a row.

In order to do so, they’ll have to slow down transcendent talent Connor McDavid and the prolific but streaky Oilers.

McDavid, a generational player, has thus far lived up to all the hype surrounding him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. In just his second NHL season — and first with a healthy start after an injured-shortened rookie year (45 games) — the 19-year-old leads all of hockey in points with 36, while no other player has yet to eclipse 30.

His 25 assists also rank atop the NHL, while his 11 goals are among the top 22 and his plus-8 rating is tied for ninth best between all centers.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said Wednesday. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice.”

And he has help.

Linemates Leon Draisaitl (11 goals, 11 assists) and Milan Lucic (eight goals, 12 assists) can do damage, as can Jordan Eberle (eight goals, 13 assists).

2. Defense wins games
The Flyers are playing better and cleaner in front of their goaltender — who has been great (see below) — and the results are showing.

The orange and black have gone five straight games of allowing two or fewer goals.

Why were they so up and down before this run? Well, they had surrendered two or fewer goals in just five of their previous 23 games.

“That’s unbelievable for us,” Wayne Simmonds said after Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers. “At the beginning of the year, to say we’d have five straight without giving up more than two would be a stretch.

“We’ve locked it down defensively and Mase has played unbelievable. We’ve been pretty good as five-man units.”

3. Mase the man
A confident Steve Mason is a dangerous Steve Mason.

Right now, Mason has the net and is gaining steam by the game.

Over his past five outings, the 28-year-old is 5-0-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Just as impressive, since Nov. 12, Mason is 8-3-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey,” Mason said Tuesday. “This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever [head coach Dave Hakstol] calls my name, be ready."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: You always have to watch Simmonds, but especially now with the winger coming off back-to-back two-goal games. Simmonds leads the NHL with eight power-play goals and is second in man-advantage points (13) to only teammate Claude Giroux (14).

Oilers: With all the attention zeroed in on McDavid, we’ll go with the 21-year-old Draisaitl, who has seven goals in his last nine games and 14 points in his past 12. The No. 3 overall pick in 2014 is an intelligent playmaker capable of hurting you.

5. This and that
• Mason is 8-4-0 with just a 3.49 goals-against average and .872 save percentage in 13 career games against Edmonton.

• Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson will make his fourth start of the season. He’s 1-1-1 on the year with 84 saves on 91 shots faced, but is 0-4-1 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.57 goals-against average and .865 save percentage.

• The Flyers are fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.11), while Edmonton is seventh (2.93).

• The Oilers have lost 10 of their last 15 games (5-7-3).

Flyers skate update: Wayne Simmonds, power play key to beating Oilers

Flyers skate update: Wayne Simmonds, power play key to beating Oilers

Todd McLellan saw a lot of Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov as a junior player in the Western Hockey League whenever the Brandon Wheat Kings would turn up in Edmonton.

“I watched him play in junior and had a chance to see that Brandon team play in Edmonton twice last year,” said the Edmonton Oilers coach.

“Obviously, a smooth, confident [player] with great vision. He has patience with the puck. Those are his offensive assets. 

“But he also positions himself well, defensively. He accepts that responsibility. For a young d-man, he is ahead of a lot of others because he can play on both sides of the puck.”

Provorov rattled Jaromir Jagr Tuesday when Florida was here (see story). Tonight he gets his first NHL taste of Connor McDavid.

McLellan said the Oilers' biggest challenge against the Flyers will be stopping the NHL’s second-ranked power play. Edmonton has the 11th best penalty kill.

His concern is Wayne Simmonds (8 power play goals) and Claude Giroux (14 power play points). 

“That power play is deadly and it really hasn’t changed — it’s just clicking,” McLellan said. “It has a couple trigger points. Obviously, Simmonds has the most goals in the league  and Giroux has the most points. But there’s other pieces to that power play, which are exceptional. 

“Our penalty kill has been taking it on the chin and I had to ask our guys today, 'Is it the penalty kill or the penalties?' In my opinion, it’s as much the penalties as the penalty kill. We have to stay out of the box.  

“This is a confident Flyers team. They feel very good in the offensive zone and make things happen. Their goaltender [Steve Mason] has been making saves for them that keeps them confident going the other way. It’s a team on the rise.”

The Streak
The Flyers are looking to make it seven straight wins tonight against the Oilers. The last time they won seven in arrow was Dec. 2-15 in 2011. They did not have a morning skate.

On Mason
Tuesday’s win against Florida was Steve Mason’s 88th as a Flyer, moving him past Pelle Lindbergh into sixth in franchise history. Mason needs six wins to move into third place in franchise history. 

Debut
Defenseman Dillon Simpson will make his Oilers debut tonight in Philadelphia. He is the son of former Oiler Craig Simpson. 

The oddity? Last year, Keegan Lowe made his Oilers' debut here in Philadelphia. He is the son of Kevin Lowe, longtime coach and front office executive for the Oilers. 

Colors
The Oilers wear three colors during their morning skate. Their defensemen dress in orange; their third and fourth lines dress in white and their top six skaters dress in blue. Now that’s an NHL hierarchy.