A YEAR AGO, Jamie Moyer was one of this city's darlings. Now he says he feels "disheartened" and "misled" by the Phillies, which is exactly how one wiseguy e-mailer said he has been feeling when Moyer has taken the mound recently.
It's popular to say this town sticks with first impressions and forgives grudgingly, that once you land in our hearts you will never leave. But the reaction to Moyer's reaction to being sent to the bullpen has been mostly negative, and it wasn't that many summers ago when fans wanted to run Keith Primeau out of town for running Bill Barber off the Flyers' bench.
After a herculean playoff effort that preceded an unfortunate forced retirement due to concussion issues, Primeau is now revered around here, a fixture in that small and privileged club that Moyer would no doubt be part of had he just rode off into the sunset after his gutty performance in Game 3 of the World Series last October.
Which leads to the plight of 31-year-old Danny Briere. Two summers ago, following a disastrous season, the Flyers signed Briere to an 8-year, $52 million contract. Implied in the numbers was that Briere was a star to build around, a guy who would take the pressure off young forwards like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, make them better. Briere struggled early in his first year here, but he was a big part of an energized and unexpected playoff run that ended that season in the Eastern Conference finals, and his resurgence was one of the reasons even greater things were expected of the maturing Flyers last season.
Those expectations were stomped upon by a team that often seemed indifferent to its maddening inconsistencies, right up to the final regular-season loss to the Rangers at home. Plagued by groin issues all season, Briere was around for only 29 of those games, and he was hardly the player the Flyers paid for when he was on the ice. A lack of mobility affected his quickness, which affected his playmaking and scoring touch.
He scored 11 goals, had 14 assists, and had the fourth-worst goals-against per 60 minutes on the team (2.92). The recurrence of the injury and his inability to play through it was seen in some quarters as a lack of toughness, and by midseason Briere and his big contract became symbolic of Flyers foibles.
Too much money, too little return. He was untradable, an anvil around a team unable to improve because of salary-cap restraints.
His heart was questioned. His guts, too. His head.
"People will never say it to your face," Briere was saying the other day. "I'm aware. I think I'm a realist. I'm aware of the contract and what that means in terms of last year. I think a lot of people maybe don't quite understand the difference between being injured and not living up to the contract.
"But I'm not really worried about it because I'm confident that last year is behind me and I can now focus on being the player I'm supposed to be in Philadelphia. It's not really important what happened in the past. It's what you do in the moment. That's how hockey and sports operates. It's what can you do for me now."
"Now" is a month away. Remaining in South Jersey all spring and summer, Briere said he has worked harder than any time since he was breaking in to prepare for this season's training camp, which officially begins on Sept. 13. The Flyers lost Joffrey Lupul in the Chris Pronger trade and couldn't re-sign popular Mike Knuble because of cap issues that Briere's contract have a lot to do with. That's 52 goals that will have to be made up somewhere, and the two leading candidates are Briere and second-year center Claude Giroux.
A positive guy, Briere said the Flyers are showing "great confidence in players like myself and Claude." There are about 6.5 million reasons, of course, why that's not really the case.
Fans will be patient with Giroux. They will expect things from Briere.
Immediately. And he knows it.
"I remember early in my career when I was in the minors or I would clear waivers and nobody wanted me, it was a different kind of pressure," he said. "It was a different feeling where I was disappointed. I didn't know if I would have another chance at getting back to the NHL. This time it's more frustration because you want to prove to the people that the contract you signed was worth it."
The season already has been framed around that. The Flyers will need Briere to earn every dollar. He will have to prove his groin is healthy, his heart is strong, his head is right and his guts sizable.
I asked him if it was fair to say that as he goes, so go the Flyers.
"Obviously, hockey is not about one guy," he said. "You need everybody to come together and play as a team. But if that was really the case to make a difference, then I would say that we're in real good shape."
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