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Pronger excited to be a Flyer

Monday, 07.06.2009 / 5:25 PM / 2009 NHL Offseason News

By John McGourty - Staff Writer

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Squiring his new hire, defenseman Chris Pronger, into Monday's press conference at Flyers SkateZone, the club's suburban practice facility, Flyers Chairman Ed Snider had the kind of look on his face that most men would if it were a supermodel on his arm.

But the smile disappeared when Snider was asked if the draft-day trade that brought Pronger to Philadelphia was an indication the team is "trying to win now." The Flyers traded forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa, two first-round draft picks and a conditional third-round draft pick June 27 to the Anaheim Ducks to get Pronger.

"We 'try to win now' every year," Snider responded. "He's a phenomenal addition to our club and we know we are going to be better because of it."

Snider has every reason to think that, because every club has gotten better with Pronger. The 35-year-old native of Dryden, Ont., has won at every level of hockey -- a Memorial Cup, World Junior Championship gold, World Championship gold, Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup.

Pronger was taken with the second pick of the 1993 Entry Draft when then-Hartford Whalers General Manager Brian Burke traded up from sixth to second to get the franchise blueliner. Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren was the Hartford coach then.

Pronger spent two years with Hartford, making the All-Rookie Team in 1994, before he was traded July 27, 1995, to the St. Louis Blues for Brendan Shanahan. He played nine seasons for the Blues and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers on Aug. 2, 2005, for Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka.

Pronger led the Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, and then was traded July 3, 2006, to Anaheim for Lupul, Ladislav Smid, a first-round pick in 2007 and first- and second-round picks in 2008.

In Anaheim, Pronger helped lead the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup. In the Final they beat the Ottawa Senators, who had goalie Ray Emery. Emery is now a teammate in Philadelphia.

"I thought (Ray) played very well against us when he was in Ottawa," Pronger said. "There were a lot of tight games that we were fortunate to score late in games to win."

Pronger joins a Flyers defense corps that includes Kimmo Timonen, Randy Jones, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent and Matt Carle.

"The core group of the team is very young and I think that bodes very well for the team getting better every year. I'm very excited," Pronger said. "I love the young players that they have; the make-up of the team and the style that they play fits the way I play. I thought it would be a good fit and welcomed it with open arms.

"I think (my role) is probably two-fold -- to help the young guys develop and achieve their potential, and lead by example by going out and playing the way I have throughout the course of my career, and be a force back on the blue line, making sure that teams understand who that is in front of our goalie."

Nobody would say it outright, but the belief among the Flyers is that they have the best defenseman in the game today. They were willing to describe Pronger as "one of the best defenseman in NHL history."

"It's a big day for our organization," Holmgren said. "... A guy who we have coveted for a number of years. Chris and I go back quite a ways to our days in Hartford. I'm excited and happy to have him as part of our organization. I think he's going to be a great fit for our team. I think our fans are going to love him and the city of Philadelphia is going to love him."

Pronger boasts many accomplishments to bolster the Flyers' thinking. He has scored 142 goals and 606 points in 1,022 NHL games. He is a career plus-153 in his career and twice led the NHL in that category. The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder also has accumulated 1,457 penalty minutes.

In 147 Stanley Cup Playoff games, Pronger has 22 goals and 102 points with 286 penalty minutes and a plus-38 rating.

His best season was 1999-00 with the Blues, when he had 14 goals, 62 points and a plus-52 with 92 penalty minutes, and won the Hart and Norris trophies.

Pronger led all skaters with an average ice time of 27:12 per game during the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Flyers said that and other aspects of his game make them think he has many years left.

"I think I'm better," Pronger said. "I'm smarter and I think I've learned to control my emotions better. I'm a little more relaxed. I think that can translate to keeping things a little calmer on the bench, if I'm not too hyper."

"I think I'm a big piece, I don't think I'm the 'key piece.' The key piece is the group coming together at the right time and having that chemistry. We proved that last year in Anaheim. Teams had written us off at the trading deadline but we started coming together. Arguably, we should have beaten Detroit. I'd like to think I'm a big part of it but for a 'key piece,' it will take the whole team."

Pronger said he's excited about coming to Philadelphia because of the fans' passion. He said he expects they'll cheer him when he plays well and boo him when he doesn't. That doesn't bother him, he said.

"I'm my own worst critic. I'm going to push myself as hard as anybody is," Pronger said. "When I don't perform up to my own expectations, I know I'm definitely not living up to the expectations of the fans, the media or management. It's up to players to own up and be accountable for their play and we have to understand that."
"We 'try to win now' every year. He's a phenomenal addition to our club and we know we are going to be better because of it." -- Ed Snider
Pronger and Holmgren said that they will work on a contract extension before he becomes a free agent next summer, and Pronger said he would like to retire a Flyer. He expects to play many more years but "not as long as Chris Chelios," who is 47.

The Flyers lost in six games in the first round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins, their Atlantic Division rivals who went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins feature a pair of big, strong, maturing forwards in captain Sidney Crosby and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin. There's little doubt the Flyers acquired Pronger to minimize their impact in their six annual regular-season matches.

It was mentioned several times that Pronger gives the Flyers the big, tough, mean defenseman they had before Derian Hatcher's knees gave out. Hatcher knocked out a few of Crosby's teeth during his rookie season; Pronger was asked what plans he has for the Penguins' top pair.

"I think you know the answer to that," Pronger said with a grin. "I'll let you come up with your own answers. We don't want to premeditate anything."

Ed Snider still is smiling.



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