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Briere says he's up to challenge, looks to take Flyers back to playoffs

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Daniel Briere knows how bad the
Philadelphia Flyers have been the past year. The All-Star center
was partly responsible for a few of their losses in Buffalo.

Daniel Briere

Briere

Briere and the Sabres exposed the Flyers as a slow, sluggish
group and eliminated them in the 2006 playoffs. Then Buffalo
embarrassed them in an eight-goal win early last year that was the
catalyst for a massive Philadelphia shake-up.

None of it deterred Briere when it came to signing with the
Flyers as a free agent.
Instead of returning to Buffalo, where he was a co-captain and
fan favorite for the winningest team in the NHL, Briere opted to
sign with the worst team in the league.

"You have to look deeper than that," Briere said Thursday.
"You have to look at the players that are going to be with you the
next three, four, five years. When you look at the young group or
core players, that's what I got excited about."

While the Sabres lost Briere and fellow co-captain Chris Drury
to the New York Rangers, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has
been active since the All-Star break in making moves that could
turn Philadelphia back into a playoff team in a hurry.

The Flyers (22-48-12) missed the playoffs for the first time
since 1994 and set team records for most losses and fewest points
(56).

"They were the best fit, the best organization and the team
that committed to winning the most," Briere said. "I don't think
money was an issue at all."

Signing Briere to an eight-year, $52 million contract last week
to fill the No. 1 center spot addressed the final, pressing need
the Flyers had leading up to training camp. Now, all Briere has to
do is show he is worth the money.

"You've got to perform," he said. "The only way to do that is
by working on the ice."

The slight 5-foot-9, 177-pound Briere blossomed with the Sabres
after an underwhelming start to his career in Phoenix. He never
scored more than 60 points in his first five-plus seasons with the
Coyotes, then broke out with 92 goals and 138 assists in 225 games
with the Sabres.

Briere played in his first NHL All-Star game this season and was
named the game's MVP. He also produced in the clutch, scoring 10
game-winning goals over the last two seasons.

Holmgren talked with the agents for centers Drury and Scott Gomez, who each signed with the Rangers, but had long decided that
Briere was a better fit on a line that will include Simon Gagne and
Mike Knuble. The Flyers played most of last season without a true
No. 1 center once Peter Forsberg was injured, then traded to
Nashville in the first major move of Holmgren's tenure.

"We needed a guy that is competitive, we needed a guy that can
score us goals, we needed a guy that can be creative on the power
play," Holmgren said. "Danny fits all those categories for us."

Perhaps Briere can add instant fan favorite to his list of
accomplishments. Fans lined up at the Flyers' practice facility in
New Jersey and Briere, wearing his No. 48 sweater, willingly signed
autographs and posed for pictures.

While all this enthusiasm seemed incomprehensible in January,
the additions of defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Jason Smith, forwards
Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall, and goalie Martin Biron have
shown the Flyers are serious about proving last year was an
aberration and not the start of an extended period in the cellar.

Holmgren provided coach John Stevens with all the pieces to
compete in the Eastern Conference. Now, Stevens has to figure out
how they all fit, something that wasn't lost on Briere.

"How's it going to mesh? I don't know," Briere said. "What I
expect with this team, when I look at the roster, is to make the
playoffs."

Certainly for $52 million, the Flyers are expecting the same.