Daniel Briere’s on-ice expectations of playing for the Montreal Canadiens didn’t match up with reality, so he wasn’t surprised when he was traded. More than anything he was glad it happened so soon.
On Monday, the Canadiens sent Briere to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for winger P.A. Parenteau and a fifth-round draft pick, in the process giving the veteran forward a fresh start after a tumultuous season in Montreal.
"I kept saying to myself, ‘Good things are going to happen, just be a good team player,"’ Briere said in a phone interview. "And I feel in a sense it’s a little bit of what’s happening today. I get the chance to go somewhere where I feel wanted again."
Briere was no favourite of coach Michel Therrien, who made him a healthy scratch and demoted him to the fourth line. The 36-year-old Gatineau, Que., native dressed for just 69 regular-season games and had 12 goals and 13 assists before recording three goals and four assists in 16 playoff games.
While saying playing for his hometown Habs was a "great experience," Briere acknowledged the reduced role Therrien put him in was not what he expected after signing a US$8-million, two-year deal last summer.
"I think sometimes certain coaches like certain players. I don’t think it was anything personal," Briere said. "But my responsibilities that I had probably were a little lower than I had expected coming in. That’s why I’m looking forward to a new chance in Colorado."
Parenteau, who conceded there was some friction with Colorado coach Patrick Roy, gets his own chance to start anew with the Habs. The 31-year-old winger from Boucherville, Que., called this a childhood dream and said he isn’t concerned about the pressure of playing in Montreal.
"I think I’m at a stage of my career where I’m old enough to deal with all the pressure that comes with it," Parenteau said on a conference call. "It’s a huge deal for me, my family, everyone that surrounds me. I’m excited and I’m up to the challenge."
Montreal talked to Parenteau’s camp two summers ago when he was an unrestricted free agent, but those conversations didn’t go far. He ultimately signed a $16-million, four-year contract with the Avalanche.
After being almost a point-a-game player in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, his production slipped this past year to 14 goals and 19 assists in 55 games. Parenteau missed two separate stretches with knee injuries but labelled himself 100 per cent going into the off-season.
"There was no surgery, it was just a matter of healing and waiting," he said.
Parenteau is getting married July 12 and plans to move to Montreal to start skating and training after that. Friends with Dale Weise, David Desharnais and Brandon Prust, he is glad to be going into a locker-room with some already-established connections.
On the ice, Parenteau thinks he fits in well with the Habs’ core. From a pure hockey perspective, his acquisition could serve to mitigate the loss of captain Brian Gionta, who could leave as an unrestricted free agent Tuesday.
"I’m a pretty good playmaker, I can score some goals," Parenteau said. "I have an edge to my game. I (can) make the right plays, some good decisions with the puck, and I think I’m a pretty solid top-six forward in the NHL."
At this stage of his career, Briere might not be a top-six forward on a playoff team. But being a healthy scratch last season wasn’t easy, either.
"In the moment, you do what’s best for the team," Briere said. "Yes, it was tough to accept being a healthy scratch and it’s tough watching your teammates going out there and sacrificing their body while you have to just watch."
Briere hopes to do much less watching for the Avalanche. He had only a quick chat with Roy, so his specific role for next season was not spelled out in great detail.
"Basically it’s going to be up to me," Briere said. "My job is to get there, be in shape and ready to go when the season starts. That’s my job and good things will happen. That was kind of the message there."
While Briere reflects fondly on the Habs’ enjoyable run to the Eastern Conference final and gets to look forward to playing for his childhood idol in Roy, Parenteau goes into a similar pressure-packed situation as a local kid playing in Montreal.
Parenteau is at a different stage of his career and should have different expectations. Still, the spotlight will be bright.
Asked what advice he might give Parenteau about dealing with that, Briere laughed a little.
"Oh boy," he said. "I’m not too sure. You try to live in the moment, try to enjoy it.
"I know personally it was a great experience having a chance to play in Montreal growing up and cheering for them. The organization is first-class, the fans were amazing the whole year. You try to live in the moment and enjoy every single minute. I feel like I’ve done that."
Note — The Habs sent qualifying offers to restricted free agents P.K. Subban, Lars Eller and Joonas Nattinen, keeping their rights. They did not qualify Ryan White, Robert Czarnik and Peter Delmas, and those three players become unrestricted free agents.