It’s a popular narrative, based on our society’s appetite for black and white heroes and villains. Some players have “it”, some players don’t. Analysts, ex-players and long-time broadcasters alike, like to discuss these heroes and villains in the most hockey way possible, by determining whether a player is a “winner” or a “loser”.
Daniel Briere of the Philadelphia Flyers added to his reputation yesterday, a positive one, albeit. After scoring what appeared to be the overtime winner in Game One against New Jersey, it was called back, the hockey ops wizards in the Toronto war room deciding that Briere had kicked in the OT winner. A shift later, just 2:33 in game time, Briere came back and scored a second winning goal.
We all know the story about how Briere increases his production in the post-season. The always friendly Stephen Whyno had the scoop:
Briere has become Mr. Playoffs for the Flyers, having scored 26 goals in his past 41 postseason games and putting up 69 points in his 64 playoff games with Philadelphia.
“I think some people rise to the big occasions,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It speaks to the player, not a game. I think through the course of history in sports, there are people who answer the bell.”
“He’s been doing that his whole career,” Flyers center Claude Giroux said. “He’s clutch. He’s a guy we count on.”
“I don’t know, is it pressure? It’s fun. I was saying earlier, I grew up watching playoff hockey when I was a kid, and I always dreamed I would have the chance to play in those big games,” he said. “When I have the opportunity like I have right now, this year, like I’ve had the last few years in the playoffs, you try to make the best of it. You try to enjoy it as much as possible. So it’s not really pressure. It’s a fun time, an exciting time.”
It doesn’t take much for us to recognize that Briere has put up a lot more points in the playoffs than the regular season. There isn’t a real big list of players who have averaged a point-per-game during the playoffs who have 100 playoff games, and I don’t remember too many of them in too much intricate detail.
There’s a good chance that Briere’s overall playoff performance is a coincidence, but as such, he’s one of the first players that people mention is “clutch” when I get into this years-old debate about whether or not certain players have the ability to elevate their game in the toughest of situations.
There are three basic rates that I use to judge a player’s offensive contribution. The first is goals per 82. While a lot of people use goals per game, you’re given a measure like “0.27″ and you can’t really tell whether or not that’s good. Goals per 82 makes that number readable. A player with, say, a .27 goals per game rate will average 22.1 goals over 82 games, and we know that a 22-goal scorer is probably pretty good.
The second measure is “shots per game”. A player with over three shots per game is elite and a player with over 2.5 is very, very good. Finally, I also look at shooting percentage just to be able to tell whether a player earned the benefit of a bounce or two along the way. A shooting percentage much higher than career norms should raise some red flags.
You can see a slight increase in both shots per game and shooting percentage, both of these things making Briere a player who scores 6 more goals over an 82-game span. That is a lot of goals and worth about one full win over the course of a season. Over a 7-game series however, the number is considerably smaller. You’d need two playoff series to be able to see the difference of a single goal. While players can often talk about Briere being “clutch” you have to also take into account that, outside the playoffs, Danny Briere is also a very good player. That means more to his playoff performance than the way he responds to pressure.
Break it up further, and you see that Briere’s percentages or shots per game don’t swing too heavily one way or another. He gets the benefit of some good bounces in the 73 games he’s played between Games 1 and 4, and plays just shy of elite in Games 5 through 7, but he doesn’t score at a rate considerably higher than his regular season in the most important of games:
What to make of this? Well, Danny Briere is a very good player, and people will constantly search for reasons why, so that we can breed more hockey players like Briere. I wouldn’t mind this in the slightest, particularly since Briere is a “high-event” player. He scores a lot of goals but liable defensively: the opposition gets a lot of shots when he’s on the ice. His relative Corsi rate per 60 minutes in the last five regular seasons hovers around zero. In the playoffs, he’s slightly below zero (-2.5).
Does this mean Briere is bad? Not at all, but damage is done both ways when he’s on the ice. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate using plus minus as an indicator of player performance, but it may be appropriate to note here that Briere has been on the ice for 10 goals against against Philly in the playoffs despite not being a guy who kills penalties. Don’t read too much into that because there are a lot of things that can factor into a player giving up a lot of goals when he’s on the ice. Fancier stats show the same thing with Briere. From his Behind The Net player page, I combined Briere’s regular and postseason numbers since 2008:
|Rel Corsi||ZAC/60||Pts/60||Team Sh%||Team Sv%|
(ZAC/60 indicates “zone adjusted Corsi per 60 minutes”, which accounts for where Briere starts his shifts)
Again, with all numbers, you want to be careful to draw too many conclusions without a lot of context, but we can deduce from the fact that Briere gets:
A – More points in the playoffs
B – Has more shots against his team when he’s on the ice in the playoffs
-that Briere is a player who appreciates the big moments and likes to play an open game to accomodate them. His slight (maybe) offensive upgrade is mitigated (maybe) by a slight defensive downgrade. That’s fine by me, as exciting things have been happening with 48 on the ice in recent years. They just happen at both ends.