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.