- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Not long ago, Daniel Briere took his two oldest sons to California for an annual summer camp run by CAA Sports agency for its young undrafted hockey clients.
It was a nod to Briere’s standing with longtime agent Pat Brisson and partner J.P. Barry that Briere’s boys Caelan, 17, and Carson, 15, got a chance to skate with promising young players, including Auston Matthews, who is projected to go first overall in next June’s NHL draft.
The young players took in seminars about conditioning, nutrition and social media and enjoyed a crash course on what it might be like to become a pro hockey player.
Not that Caelan or Carson or Cameron, 14 -- who is returning to hockey after taking a year and a half off -- needed a course on what it means to be a pro hockey player. All they need to do is listen to and watch their dad, who has 973 regular-season NHL games to his credit.
Brisson has been running the camp for 20 years -- when it began he did all of the seminars on his own rather than bringing in experts and celebrities who now make the event so popular -- and Briere was one of the first to attend as an undersized teen out of Gatineau, Quebec, who was lighting it up in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Drummondville.
As July heads inexorably toward August, the question Daniel Briere is asking himself is whether the circle begun that many years ago is drawing to a close.
Drafted 24th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, Briere will turn 38 a day before the start of the 2015-16 season.
He is an unrestricted free agent, and more to the point, he remains undecided about whether he has the will and desire to commit to another NHL campaign.
Actually, it’s more complex than that. Briere has yet to decide if he has the will to prepare for another season away from his boys.
That decision looms, but it’s not quite time to make it.
So instead of looking too far ahead, Briere focuses on the moment, focuses on the time spent with his three teenage boys. Briere has spent lots of time away from them since leaving the Philadelphia Flyers after the 2013 season and spending a season with the Montreal Canadiens and then last season with the Colorado Avalanche.
He laughs because that’s the same message he’s trying to impart to his boys, Briere told ESPN.com -- enjoy the now “rather than looking too far down the road."
"That’s what I’m trying to sell them on right now," he said.
The boys live in New Jersey, not far from the Flyers’ practice facility, and Briere also has a place nearby since he and his wife separated a number of years ago.
This is the first year Briere has noticed the boys thinking about things like proper eating, proper workout techniques, and how all of these things connect to the body and performance. Our call is delayed, in fact, as Briere attends to a workout issue in his basement.
"That’s pretty cool," Briere admitted.
The gifted center has seen his production decline since 2010-11, when he had 34 goals and 68 points in 77 games for the Flyers.
But even if he did not find the fit he was hoping for in Montreal, Briere continued to support his standing as one of the best playoff producers of his generation, chipping in seven points in 16 playoff games in a reduced role for the Habs as they made a surprise run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2014.
Overall, Briere has collected 116 points in 124 playoff games.
Those numbers will be intriguing for a team that's looking for a low-risk addition to a roster that might be close to making the playoffs or contending for the Cup.
Of course, any interest is predicated on Briere’s interest, and as with all players at this career stage, the decision is never as simple as, "Yes, I’ll play" or "No, I’m done."
Briere and his boys are just back from vacation, which is where his focus has been. But that will change in the coming days.
"I’ll have to start thinking about it more and more in the next couple of weeks," he admitted.
Can Briere commit to the rigors of not just the season but of preparing for it?
"That’s kind of the big question: Can I imagine committing to it?" he said.
"If I decide to play, I have to commit to full out training. I’m working out and I’m staying in good shape as of right now. But if I decide to play, I’ve got about two months left to really take it to the next level to be ready for next season."
And how do the boys feel about it?
"I think they’re kind of torn on it, too," he admitted.
The past couple of years, they have missed having their father around. But they also understand how special it is to have a dad who is an NHL player, especially given their interest in the game. The three teens will be playing travel hockey in the New Jersey/Philadelphia area this coming season.
"I guess it depends on the day," Briere said, and that answer seems to apply to both father and sons.
One thing is certain: Briere would like to stay in the Northeast so he can be closer to his family.
Could the New York Islanders use help on their power play and another veteran presence to get them over the hump?
What about Pittsburgh, as the Penguins continue to try to move forward after another disappointing playoff exit?
There are lots of moving parts to this equation, as there always are for players who are contemplating the finish line and whether it is upon them.
Briere’s time in the West with the Avs -- he had eight goals and 12 points in 57 games -- was especially trying and gives him pause in these dog days of summer.
"The kids were resilient and they hung in there," Briere said of their vast geographic separation.
"But you come to a point where you have to think about your life, their life, and who you’re affecting with your decisions. As hockey players, you do something your whole life, and the decisions you have to make get tougher and tougher."
7dScott Burnside and Craig Custance