BOSTON - MAY 01:  Danny Briere #48 of the Philadelphia Flyers is congratulated by teammates on the bench after his goal against the Boston Bruins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 1, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Flyers 5-4 in overtime.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

“Briere Dangerous in Clutch Situations” read the headline.  It re-read the same way, and I think I read it a third time before finally clicking the link to read it.  I start off agnostic whenever I hear that someone is a clutch player; not because I don’t believe some people are better when the chips are down, but because I think most NHL players are by nature successful in high-stress situations and because I think ‘clutch’ is a pretty nebulous quality to measure (for example: Pavel Datsyuk and Marty Turco – clutch or not?).


Then I read this paragraph:


During his 11 regular seasons, Briere has averaged 0.79 points-per-game, but in the playoffs he has been even better, averaging 0.93 ppg. There haven’t been many players in NHL history 17 percent more productive in the playoffs than in the regular season.


That paragraph is a perfect example of why people mistrust statistics.  The numbers themselves are accurate, of course, but something interesting happens if we only compare apples to apples: i.e. playoff production versus regular season production that same year.  Given that this is me writing this, I feel compelled to produce a chart.


Season Reg. GP Reg. PTS PTS/GM PO GP PO PTS PTS/GM Difference
1999-00 13 2 0.15 1 0 0.00 -0.15
2001-02 78 60 0.77 5 3 0.60 -0.17
2005-06 48 58 1.21 18 19 1.06 -0.15
2006-07 81 95 1.17 16 15 0.94 -0.23
2007-08 79 72 0.91 17 16 0.94 +0.03
2008-09 29 25 0.86 6 4 0.67 -0.19
2009-10 75 53 0.71 6 7 1.17 +0.46
Career 403 365 0.91 69 64 0.93 +0.02


It turns out that the lowest scoring years of Briere’s career were early on, while he was still developing as a player.  Those years happened to coincide with the time when he played in Phoenix, during which time the team played very few playoff games.  Because those seasons have significantly worse points-per-game numbers, they drag down his regular season rate without affecting his playoff rate.  When we ignore those seasons, the difference in production drops from a likely significant 17% to a much less relevant 2%.


Not that this stopped a room full of reporters from asking Briere what his secret was, or prevented Briere from trotting out that old standby, “confidence”.  And undoubtedly somebody will tell me that since Briere believes it’s confidence, it must be confidence.


Be that as it may, the logic I quoted above doesn’t prove Briere’s a clutch player.  All it proves is that some reporters aren’t so hot with the numbers.

Comments (5)

  1. The paragraph you quote does misstate the argument but; Daniel Briere-66 points in 70 playoff games (9 gwg’s). That’s pretty close to clutch if not the entry point into a discussion about clutchiness. I would think that it’s a fair expectation to see individual scoring decline in the playoffs but Briere actually improves marginally.
    On the other hand; Big Joe, a definite non-clutch performer…59pts in 84 games.

  2. That’s kind of missing the point though, nsg. When Briere was younger and not counted on as one of the top scorers on his team, his teams weren’t making the playoffs. When you add up Briere’s playoff stats, you’re adding up the last five years and the 2002 playoffs. If you give Joe Thornton the same benefit and only add up those years, you get a much more respectable 47 points in 55 games.

    So maybe Briere really is more of a clutch performer. Or maybe it’s just that Briere wasn’t making the playoffs in his formative years as an NHL player and Thornton was. Point is, the numbers really don’t tell you one way or the other.

  3. No, I wasn’t missing the point. I wasn’t referring to the comparison between Briere’s regular and playoff career averages (which is a bit misleading).
    I was simply pointing out that a guy who gets almost a point per game in the playoffs is at the very least approaching clutch territory (whatever that means).

  4. Noskillgill: Yeah, it’s entirely possible that Briere is the kind of player who performs well in pressure situations. Things are so close that I wouldn’t feel comfortable being definitive about it, but it’s certainly possible.

    The statistical argument used by the reporter, however, is a misleading one.

  5. @JW-good call. Sorry bout that.

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