Why Daniel Briere Isn’t Remembered as a Coyote

On Monday, Daniel Briere announced his retirement from the NHL. The 37-year-old centre finished his career with 696 points in 973 games played; he took a while to adapt his game at the NHL level but once he arrived, he was a player.

The Phoenix Coyotes drafted Briere, developed him and saw him breakout in their organization. But Briere ultimately had his best seasons with the Buffalo Sabres thanks to a curious little deal at the 2003 NHL Trade Deadline.

The Trade

Gratton Briere

  • March 10, 2003: Phoenix Coyotes trade Daniel Briere and a third-round pick in the 2004 Draft to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Chris Gratton and a fourth-round pick in the 2004 Draft.

Michael Barnett, then the Coyotes general manager, has taken a lot of heat for this deal over the years but at the time it was at least somewhat defensible. Gratton was 27 years old, came in at 6’3” and 220 pounds and had 44 points in 66 games at the time of the trade. Briere was 25 years old, just 5’10” and 180 pounds, and had 46 points in 68 games.

Gratton was an established NHL’er who in four previous seasons had scored between 34 and 49 points; he was big, physical and a reasonable (if erratic) secondary scorer.

Briere had destroyed the AHL, but concerns about his defensive game kept him in the minors and led to him clearing waivers in October 2000. He emerged as an NHL’er in the last half of that season and the next year (2001-02) had a breakthrough campaign with 60 points in 78 games. Less than a year later he was traded.

Then-Sabres general manager Darcy Regier saw a younger player with a higher ceiling:

Obviously Chris was a good player for us, but what we do is kind of roll it back here a little bit. (Briere’s) a couple of years younger. He’s certainly a different type of player and I think it’s a good fit for us considering where we’d like to go. … He’s got upside.

Gratton slumped badly after the trade (one assist in 14 games) and had a disappointing 2003-04 (68 games, 29 points) before being dealt to Colorado at the deadline. The Coyotes did badly in that deal, too, landing Derek Morris but also giving up the draft pick which the Avs ultimately used on Paul Stastny. Gratton didn’t stay in Colorado, instead signing with Florida after a brief and unmemorable run post-deadline.

Briere put up 12 points in 14 post-deadline games with Buffalo and would emerge as a major star on the other side of the 2004-05 NHL lockout. He posted a career-high 95 points in 2006-07 and had three full brilliant seasons (and two deep and productive playoff runs) with the Sabres before eventually leaving as a free agent.

This & That

Briere AHL

  • It’s interesting with the benefit of hindsight to read some of the comments made the day of the trade. The comments section of a Phoenix fan site was generally approving of the Briere deal, with many complaints about the smaller man’s lack of a defensive game. Gratton’s faceoff percentage (58.9%) also got some play.
  • It isn’t a full defence, but it’s worth remembering the degree to which the NHL game changed in 2005. Lots of power plays and less obstruction benefited Briere immensely and didn’t do Gratton any favours.
  • Briere’s career is also a good reminder of the occasional crazy value available on the waiver wire. He scored 92 points (fourth in the AHL) as a rookie pro, managed 22 points in the NHL a year later and then posted 71 points in 58 AHL games in his third season. Nobody claimed him when he hit the wire the following fall.
  • Both draft picks involved in this deal have Oilers ties. Phoenix flipped the fourth-round pick it got to Edmonton as part of the Jason Chimera trade; the Oilers drafted Liam Reddox. Buffalo kept its pick and drafted Andrej Sekera, who will be Edmonton’s No. 1 defenceman after signing with the Oilers this past summer.
  • ubermiguel

    To be fair to Michael Barnett, in the late 90’s/early 00’s, everybody wanted Chris Gratton. He was just so big. Early in his career when he was on, he couldn’t be stopped. He looked like he should be getting 40 every year, easy, and if only you could get him in the right system, motivate him the right way, get him the perfect linemate, etc., you could convince yourself you had your own Eric Lindros.

    Not like he was a bust, he did play more than 1000 games, but he ended up being a better checker than a scorer. Briere was kind of like found money for the Coyotes at the time too. They should’ve lost him on waivers the year before but didn’t, then he broke out as an NHL player. It was kind of obvious they didn’t have a lot of time for him. They probably thought they were trading high on him.

  • Oilcounty88

    I watched an interesting piece about how Briere is now dating a fighter pilot in the US Airforce. Pretty interesting because they said that they could only see each other for about a total of a month throughout the year considering where she got posted and where he was playing. Wonder if that factored into his decision.

  • Tikkanese

    Calgary’s big announcement this morning re their new facilty should probably keep their trolls busy and offbthe board until the reality of Oiler fans having to share the cost as Alberta taxpayers sinks in,better get prepared from a barrage of gleeful crowing emanating from the southern cow pastures.