Philadelphia Flyers Overpay for Chris Pronger to Challenge Penguins

Todd FlemingAnalyst IJune 29, 2009

CHICAGO - MARCH 03: Chris Pronger #25 of the Anaheim Ducks looks to pass as he skates up the ice ahead of Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago  Blackhawks on March 3, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

A man who stands 6'6" tall casts a big shadow.

On draft weekend, the shadow of defensive giant Chris Pronger and the blockbuster trade that moved him from Anaheim to Philadelphia was so big that it pushed every other story to the back burner.

Pronger is a superb defenseman, bringing a vast arsenal of defensive and offensive skills to the table.

He has a nearly unparalleled mean streak, making life miserable for offensive players who share the ice with him.

He is a sure fire Hall of Famer who still brings plenty of leadership to the table.

But, he is also a guy with a receding hairline who isn’t getting any younger, a chap who will soon turn 35-years-old.

Is he the same player who won the Hart and Norris trophies in 2000 while leading the league in the plus/minus category?

Only in the sense that the two players share the same name and look vaguely similar.

The Philadelphia sportswriters love the move, and why not?

It gave them a story to write about nonstop for the next few years.

The media comments that are especially amusing are the ones that argue that this was a good move because it shows that Philadelphia is committed to winning and isn't content to get bounced from the playoffs. 

What team doesn't want to win? 

A comment like that says nothing about the actual value of the move, only that it was good because it happened.

It would be charitable to say that the rest of the hockey media doesn’t appear anywhere close to as high on the move.

For those who try to take the easy way out and claim that it was a great move for both teams, I don’t buy it.

There is always a winner and a loser in blockbuster trades like this.

The Flyers and general manager Paul Holmgren gave up a ton to bring Pronger and his $6.25M one year contract to the City of Brotherly Love, another bloated contract on a team that already has a couple of them.

And, they mortgaged their future to do it.

They gave up what essentially amounts to four first round picks to Anaheim.

I’d always bet on the team getting the host of top young prospects over the team that traded them for an aging star getting the better end of the deal, especially in an era in which salary cap management is so important.

Depending on how those picks and players develop, this could very easily look, in five years, like the hockey version of the Herschel Walker trade that turned the Dallas Cowboys into an NFL power while netting Minnesota nothing in return.

In that time, we’ll know if Anaheim was able to parlay the treasure trove of young prospects into a salary cap manageable hockey force.

And Pronger will be nearly 40, either out of the game or close to it.

The trade is the equivalent of somebody going on a credit card binge. He may enjoy the big screen TV and the Jacuzzi in the short-term, even as utter misery waits right around the corner when the bills come due. 

For the Flyers, that bill will be paid in competitiveness a few years down the road. 

This trade only makes sense if the Flyers are able to parlay the acquisition into a Cup in the next couple years.

Holmgren is betting his job and reputation on it.

I can understand giving up forward Joffrey Lupal, the seventh overall pick of 2002, who, despite being a gifted young player in his hockey prime, has a sizable contract.

Holmgren couldn’t have pulled off the trade without shedding at least one big contract as part of the deal, and Lupal was that sacrificial contract.

But, they also gave up a defenseman loaded with potential in Luca Sbisa, who was their first round pick from 2008, their first round pick from 2009, and their first round pick for 2010.

So, why make a move that smells like utter desperation?

My guess, for what it is worth, is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Flyers were booted from the playoffs in two consecutive seasons by the team they and their fans hate the most.

Despite having two very good defensemen in Timmo Kimonen and Braydon Coburn, the Flyers were tormented by the PenguinsSidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in back to back playoff outings.

But, the move is shortsighted even when considering those two playoff series. In last year’s playoff matchup, neither of those top two defenders was healthy.

In this year’s series, the two teams were closely matched and, but for a monumental Game 6 collapse, nearly went to a deciding seventh game where anything can happen.

I’m guessing the Flyers’ top brass watched the Stanley Cup Finals closely, and saw how well the Detroit Red Wings were able to use matchups to limit Crosby’s damage.

But, those matchups cut both ways also limiting the Red Wings’ offensive output since so many of their top players were focused defensively on trying to limit the damage of the Pens’ stars.

The Flyers’ hope is that Pronger will give them a guy who they can also use to try and limit or erase transcendent talents like Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin.

Will it work?


Mike Richards can play the role of Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk as the shut down forward with Pronger playing the role of Niklas Lidstrom.

But, count me as a skeptic.

The Flyers don’t have much flexibility to adjust if the plan doesn’t work out quite as planned.

This might very well essentially amount to a one year rental.

The Flyers are butting up against the salary cap with seven players earning more than $5 million to suit up in orange and black next season.

It is not at all a sure thing that they’ll be able to resign Pronger, who may very well ask for well north of $7 million for a long term contract despite the likelihood that his play will decline.

He is currently making slightly less than fellow blue-liner Timonen.

Pronger's agent has all of the leverage to push for absolute top dollar knowing that the Flyers' brass absolutely has to re-sign him.  If not, there's the risk of fan mutiny after giving up so much to acquire him.

They've essentially put all their eggs into a 78 inch high basket.

The Flyers almost certainly have to bid a fond farewell to talented forward, Mike Knuble.  Any hope of re-signing him went out the window with Pronger.

It would be more than ironic if Knuble signed with the Penguins, a team that is showing plenty of interest in him, and came back to haunt the Flyers in next year’s playoffs.

The Flyers have significantly impaired the pipeline of cheap young developmental players to fill in the cracks if this goes south.

They may have improved their chances at competing for the Cup for the next couple seasons while almost certainly hurting their long-term chances over the next decade.


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