(WECK 1230) — At the age 27, the player finds himself at a career intersection. Drafted in the first round, the short-of-stature forward has been criticized for lax play in his own zone and all-around underperforming. Sure, he’s scored a bunch of goals, but they weren’t big ones and he’s failed to distinguish himself as much of a leader. The center was even featured in a league-wide video showing the unsportmanslike diving bringing down the game.
The year is 2004, and the player’s name is Daniel Briere.
Why skate down this oft-repeated aisle of memory lane? Because there is very little difference between Roy and the early years of his mentor Briere. In fact, most scenarios have Roy ahead of Briere at this point in their careers.
The inspiration from this post goes back to Oct. 26 when the Sabres fell to the Flyers by a 6-3 margin. The team’s postgame show mentioned how Briere’s goal and assist were what was missing from the team though Roy had tallied two helpers in the contest. The next day, another media member said there’s “no chance” the Flyers would deal Briere for Roy straight-up (a deal which would be absurd given the age/contract disparity).
It’s this Briere/Roy comparison that gets me aggravated every time.
Roy’s received grief for all of the above things his mentor Briere did in the opening paragraph, and this time of struggle is the player’s chance to step out as a No. 1, as the latter did in 2005-06. No player’s career has been better overwritten by post-lockout fortunes than Briere. Fact of the matter is Briere had been statisically inferior to Roy in every way before each turned 27.
Roy played in 80 more games than Briere during their respective first 27 years, so it’s better to compare by per-game numbers.
Goals-per-game: .31 to .30, Roy
Assists-per-game: .49 to .33, Roy
Points-per-game: .80 to .63, Roy
Overall plus/minus: +45 to -25, Roy
Game-winning goals: 27 to 15, Roy
Numbers can be deceiving, but don’t make the mistake of thinking Briere didn’t benefit from a supporting cast. His Phoenix teams featured Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk and Shane Doan, and the Coyotes only missed the playoffs once during his tenure there, though he only made the cut in two series.
Head coach Lindy Ruff has identified Roy as the team’s “heartbeat” going back to the 2006-07 Presidents Trophy campaign. So far this season, the numbers bear out this description. The Sabres are 0-5-1 this season in games Roy doesn’t post a point. Doing the simple math, Buffalo has recorded a 3-4-1 mark when No. 9 tallies a point.
So Roy’s nearly point-per-game start (13 pts in 14 games) may be the first step in the maturity of a player many fans scapegoated after a miserable one-and-done against Boston in the 2010 playoffs. I’m not saying you have to love No. 9, but he’s well-ahead of where Briere was when the mentor entered his “put-up or shut-up campaign.”
As much as it pains me to say it while the team struggles, I have to make this point in leaner times as opposed to easily writing this post during a five-game winning streak. Times don’t get much leaner than 3-9-2. I imagine times are going to get better, and here’s a huge chance for Roy to assert himself as more mature than his mentor, a player no longer wearing a letter on his sweater in Philadelphia.
If Roy can get this team back from the basement, you may find him a surprising candidate for captain. Before last season’s emergence of Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller, I had been told numerous times by national experts that Roy was the No. 1 asset of the Sabres. Most critics of this philosophy are quick to point out that those experts don’t watch Roy every night. Something tells me that if Roy were to be dealt, fans would start romanticizing his new numbers as the center explodes like his mentor.