Early in the press conference introducing Chris Pronger
as a Flyers defenseman, Pronger said that he and Paul Holmgren were joking earlier about some of their experiences together with the Hartford Whalers. Holmgren, now the Flyers general manager, was coaching the Whalers when they chose Pronger second overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.
There wasn’t time to follow up at that moment, so later I asked Holmgren if he could relate one of the stories he and Pronger were laughing about.
Following Pronger’s second season with the Whalers, the team owner wanted Holmgren to spend time with Chris in his home town during the summer.
“I flew to Dryden, Ontario, and spent three or four days with him,” Holmgren recalled. “We fished together and hung out. When he dropped me off at the airport I called the office to see what was going on. The general manager (Jim Rutherford) said, `How would you feel about Brendan Shanahan for Chris Pronger
?’ By the time I landed in Hartford he was traded (to St. Louis).”
Since then, Pronger has been traded three times: to Edmonton, Anaheim and now the Flyers. Sometimes, when a player is traded a lot there is something wrong with him. That’s not the case with Pronger, a future Hockey Hall-of-Famer. He helped lead Anaheim to a Stanley Cup championship two years ago. The Flyers believe he can do the same for them. And the sooner the better, right, Flyers fans?
|Paul Holmgren and Chris Pronger share a laugh after Pronger tries on his new jersey for the first time. (Getty Images) |
Pronger seems eager to get started with the Flyers. Attired in a dark suit, white shirt and a pale orange tie (nice touch) with white stripes, he said, “I love the young players (the Flyers) have and their style fits the way I play.”
Asked about his role with the Flyers, Pronger said, “To help the young guys develop, lead by example and be a force on the blue line.”
That the 6-6, 223-pound Pronger is a force on the ice is undeniable.
“Chris is one of those guys who don’t come along every year,” said Flyers head coach John Stevens, a former defense partner of Pronger’s with the Whalers. “He’s a big guy, he plays with an attitude, he has great vision with the puck, he’s one of the best passers in the league, he has great team qualities, he trains properly, he can defend. Sometimes you get some of those things but not all those things. He’s one of those rare players (where) it all goes together.”
During a recent appearance on Daily News Live
on Comcast SportsNet, retired Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher said he was disappointed last season that the Flyers rearguards didn’t hold the ice in front of the Flyers net better. Hatcher, now the Flyers’ player development coach, won’t have to worry about that deficiency when Pronger is on patrol.
Asked during the press conference at the Skate Zone how he’ll defend Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, a stone-faced Pronger replied, “I think you know the answer.” Pressed to address the question better, Pronger, presumably with visions of Crosby and Ovechkin tumbling to the ice after he bodychecks them, said, “Let’s not premeditate anything.”
Finally, he said, “You take away their time and space. Once you allow them to get to the blue line and let them dipsy-doodle, they are very hard to stop.”
Singe-handedly, Pronger won’t be able to slow down Ovechkin, Crosby and teammate Evegni Malkin. Pronger said a team needs two sets of shut-down defensemen. The Flyers think they have those two sets in Pronger, Kimmo Timonen
, Braydon Coburn
and either Matt Carle
, Ryan Parent or Randy Jones.
Pronger also is expected to be a quiet but imposing force with the Flyers. It’s not his style to strut into the locker room and say, “I’m Chris Pronger
. I’ve won a Stanley Cup.”
Explained Pronger: “It’s showing them what I’ve learned. I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs. It’s really just being a quiet leader.”
According to Pronger, having players with Stanley Cup-winning experience “sometimes is a little overstated. When I was in Anaheim, Scott Niedermayer was the only guy who had won the Stanley Cup. You have to have 25 guys buying into what the coach is selling. It takes desire and passion to win (the Cup).”
Last season, the Flyers entrusted the captain’s job to 23-year-old Mike Richards. He’ll continue to grow in that role.
“If you talk with Mike Richards,” Stevens said, “he’s probably the most excited that Chris is coming here. He’s making the team better, he’s another voice in the locker room. He should make Mike’s job easier because you have a team of horses pulling the wagon and he’s another horse.”
Pronger and the other Flyers D-men will be playing in front of Ray Emery. When Pronger and Anaheim won the Stanley Cup, they beat Ottawa, whose goaltender happened to be Emery.
I think you know the answer." - Chris Pronger, when asked how he will defend Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin
“I thought he played very well against us,” Pronger said. “There were a lot of tight games that we were fortunate enough to score late in the games to win.”
Two issues with Pronger are his contract and his age. Next season, Pronger will earn a reported $6.25 million in the final year of his contract. He said he would “love to finish” his career in Philadelphia.
A 15-year NHL veteran, Pronger will turn 35 on Oct. 10. Traditionally, highly conditioned defensemen can play effectively into their late 30s.
Asked if he feels 34, Pronger smiled and said, “Twenty four.”
* * *
As press conferences often do, as the guest of honor relaxed in his new surroundings, he loosened up. Pronger says he’ll wear No. 20 with the Flyers because his father wore that number in a senior hockey league.
Did he inherit some of his father’s hockey skills? “I hope not,” a smiling Pronger said. “You obviously haven’t seen him play.”
Flyers fans will see Pronger play a lot next season and hopefully beyond in the orange and black. Will his acquisition be a good deal for the Flyers? They paid a huge price for Pronger, swapping Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul and two first-round draft choices to Anaheim. Losing Lupul and Mike Knuble (to Washington, as a free agent) leaves a 52-goal gap in the Flyers offense.
It will take a year or two to determine if Pronger was worth the price. If you’re Paul Holmgren and you feel your team is this close to a Stanley Cup, then you make the deal. Successful general managers possess the daring and boldness that Holmgren has displayed in deal making.Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.
Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.