Chris Pronger: Philadelphia Flyers' 2012 Achilles Heel

Joe Russomanno@@jriding4evrCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 04:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers cross sticks in Game Four of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 4, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Since his 2009 arrival Chris Pronger has been a catalyst to the Philadelphia Flyers’ success. The previous two years saw playoff exits at the hands of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

His season-ending back injury, which looks to carry over to this year, hurt the team in a big way. Before I continue, let me just say, I am a huge fan of Chris Pronger.

In Pronger’s first season with the Flyers they saw their first appearance in the finals in a decade. The road to that appearance proved more tumultuous than a daytime soap opera.

Rumors swirled of Chris Pronger feuding with then-captain Mike Richards. The team went on one of the franchise’s worst slides ever. This slide led to the firing of then-coach John Stevens. The team was further plagued by the loss of Ray Emery. Emery looked to be the long lost savior between the pipes until then. The Flyers would go through umpteen starting goaltenders because of injuries. Through all of this, the team rallied around battle hardened veteran Chris Pronger.

The team fought hard through the final months of the season. Peter Laviolette had replaced Stevens at the helm and leaned heavily on a Pronger-led defense. The team ended up needing a final game shootout against division rival New York Rangers to make the playoffs.

As a seventh seed, the Pronger-led Flyers crushed the second-seeded Devils. They went on to the next round against Boston. The Flyers found themselves down three games to none. Miraculously they battled back and defeated Boston in a history-making rally. No one had done such a feat in over 30 years.

But the Flyers went on to lose in the final round. Let’s face it: they never were supposed to be there. They had a career backup goalie they found on the scrap heap. They were down 3-0 to Boston. This was a team that needed the last game to make the playoffs.

Only a year earlier this team let up a 3-0 lead in an elimination game to Pittsburgh. What happened? Chris Pronger is what happened.

This past season the Flyers looked absolutely unstoppable until the trade deadline. People look to blame Chris Versteeg as the bad luck charm. Luck had nothing to do with this.

Rumors again started to swirl that the locker room was once again in turmoil. The team even got shut out at home March 30th by the woeful Atlanta Thrashers. Chris Pronger, of course, was a non-healthy scratch for that game.

With Chris Pronger injured, the team looked like the Titanic after it bumped into the iceberg. They got shut out in games they had no business losing. Their captain even got pushed around and looked to lose a fight against Brandon Dubinsky. Chris Pronger by contrast always looked infuriated after a loss and never satisfied after a win.

While the Flyers hung on for dear life against seventh-seeded Buffalo this year, Pronger made a brief appearance. The Flyers found themselves facing elimination in Game 6. They dug an early 3-1 hole for themselves and it didn’t help Peter Laviolette made an uncharacteristic mistake by starting Michael Leighton in net.

Chris Pronger played limited minutes in this contest. However any fan who watches the team all year had to see a difference. This team played inspired through the second half of the game as Danny Briere added in some heroics too. This team had fire in its belly that was absent the five games before.

The Flyers went on to defeat the Sabres in seven games. The next round they had to face the revenge driven Bruins without Chris Pronger. The result: lambs to the slaughter.

The Flyers just can’t seem to find fight without Pronger in the lineup. As great as he is, Chris Pronger struggles to stay healthy.

General manager Paul Holmgren has addressed this lack of leadership through some acquisitions. Max Talbot, while not as offensively talented as Mike Richards, is even more defensively talented. Talbot has a plus-12 postseason resume and a game-winning, series-clinching goal for a Stanley Cup. Mike Richards was minus-11 in the postseason.

Wayne Simmonds looks to add some firepower and plain old fire. He plays physical and scrappy like a younger Richards.

Can they give what the team lacks without Chris Pronger? Flyer fans can only hope they do. One thing is certain—Mike Richards did not. That lack of leadership and inspiration prompted the trade.

It should be noted some players did play with fire notably in the last post season. They would be known as Danny Briere and James Van Riemsdyk. With Chris Pronger missing a good part of the next season, one of these two will don the “C.” Hopefully the team responds.


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