On Friday, Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren officially revealed what’s been bothering team Captain Chris Pronger in addition to his knee problems.
“While Chris’s knee is improving, he has struggled with other issues that are concussion-like symptoms. Chris will see Dr. Joe Maroon and Dr. Mickey Collins on Wednesday, December 14th in Pittsburgh for further evaluation. Chris will be out indefinitely.”
The increasingly popular diagnosis known as “concussion-like symptoms” is a term that no one in Philly wants to hear. The Flyers struggled during Pronger’s absence last season and they’d rather not deal with the 37-year-old defenceman being out of action for very long again.
However, Pronger’s indefinite leave of absence doesn’t sound optimistic and the Flyers should be prepared to move forward without their captain for the next several months. This means that a few players in particular are going to have to step up their leadership roles and someone may even have to take over as the team captain.
Let’s take a look at the top five candidates to step in for the injured Pronger as captain on a temporary basis:
Braydon Coburn is an important part of the Flyers as he logs a lot of minutes and is a stalwart on defence. At 26 years old, Coburn is in his fifth NHL season and should be a part of the Flyers future for years to come.
Coburn might not wear a letter on his sweater now, but expect him to be at least an alternate captain in not too distant future, as he is a solid leader on the ice, and is also a low maintenance player who gives an honest effort every night.
The 29-year-old Hartnell is now in his fifth season with the Flyers, and is on pace for his best statistical season as a professional, which is surprising considering his ice time has declined slightly with the Flyers adding more depth to their group of forwards in 2011.
However, the biggest reason why Hartnell should be a solid candidate to take on more of a leadership role with the Flyers is his outgoing nature and eccentric personality. I’m not in the Flyers dressing room on a regular basis, but he seems like the type of guy that his teammates like and respect.
Hartnell also embraces the physical part of hockey, and is never afraid to stick up for his teammates. It’s this part of his game that the fans in Philly love the most. It’s helped Hartnell become a leader on the Flyers in their past playoff runs.
Let’s face it. Claude Giroux will be the captain on the Flyers one day. It’s just a matter of when, rather than if. He does and says all the right things on and off the ice, and he’s become the darling of the NHL, even outside of Philadelphia.
Giroux is just 23 years old, but he’s already become a superstar over the last year and a half due to his 76-point season in 2010-11 and his clutch play during the Flyers run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. This season he’s on pace to score over 100 points and he’s making it a lot easier for Philly sports fans to forget about the Eagles' dreadful 2011 season.
When Pronger retires, Giroux would be my first choice as the next full-time captain of the Flyers. He’s the epitome of a classy superstar. However, for now the Flyers could probably use a more veteran presence to step in for Pronger as captain on a temporary basis.
With that being said, we shouldn’t have to look any further than their two current alternate captains to step up.
Briere is one of the aforementioned alternate captains and has 768 games of NHL experience under his belt. 285 of those have come with Philadelphia.
He’s one of the top forwards on the Flyers, and he's also the highest paid member of the Flyers in terms of annual cap hits. Briere is a great candidate to step up and lead the Flyers in Pronger’s absence because, at age 34, he is already one of the veteran leaders both on and off the ice.
He was also a co-captain earlier in his career, when he played for the Buffalo Sabres.
As one of only two other Flyers that have ever been NHL captains, Kimmo Timonen is the most likely candidate to fill that role again while Pronger remains on the injured reserve list.
Timonen is a rock on defence and will likely play on the top defence pairing along with Braydon Coburn while Pronger is out of action.
The 36-year-old Finn has only missed five games since joining the Flyers in 2007 and might be the most valuable player on the team next to Pronger and Giroux. At the very least, he’s the most durable player on the team, which is saying a lot considering his age.
Timonen only has two years left on his contract, so he isn’t the long-term solution to the Flyers leadership void.
However, the Flyers aren’t in need of a long-term captain at the moment. They simply need someone who can step up and help keep the team on the right track while Chris Pronger recovers from his concussion-like symptoms.