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Flyers hopeful Pronger will be back next season

by Adam Kimelman

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren likes to call himself a "glass half-full" kind of guy. That's why he refuses to believe defenseman and team captain Chris Pronger has played his last NHL game.

"I'm still, as it relates to Chris, as much as anything else, I'm a glass-is-half-full kind of guy," Holmgren said. "I believe he's going to play. But I don't know. I don't have anything to back that up."

Pronger hasn't played since Nov. 19 due to a concussion, and Holmgren said as far as he knows, there's been no change in the 37-year-old's condition.


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"I think he still has headaches from time to time," Holmgren said. "It's concussion-like symptoms."

As much as Pronger would have helped the Flyers on the ice in Philadelphia's five-game loss to New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, his absence from the locker room was felt just as strongly.

"It's nice to have that guy [a captain], and Prongs is one of the best leaders to play the game," forward Scott Hartnell said. "You always felt that missing part in the dressing room. Prongs is probably one of the best guys. He can be your best friend, but if you're not playing hard he's going to let you know. I think we miss that."

Pronger's condition going forward could affect how the Flyers approach the offseason. If he can't return, does that mean Holmgren will make a play for a No. 1 defenseman like Nashville's Ryan Suter, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1?

"At some point I'll sit down with Chris and answer that," Holmgren said. "Probably prior to July 1 we'll make an assessment of where he's at."

If Pronger can't come back, there's also the issue of the captaincy. Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen have been captains of their teams in the past, and Claude Giroux stepped into a leadership role with his play on the ice and his maturity off it.

Giroux, who led the team in scoring in the regular season and the playoffs, received an endorsement from a number of his teammates.

"He's got it in him," center Maxime Talbot said. "He's a guy, you look at the playoffs and through the season, he was an elite player all season, one of the best in the League. I think being a captain is not just being a good player, it's about character and … that's why you call it a leader, it's leading the guys in the dressing room and having the trust of your teammates, and I think Claude definitely has that. He has the passion, he has the work ethic, and he never takes a day off."

Added Hartnell: "Claude is a great guy off the ice, he's a leader in our dressing room, obviously one of the best players in the League -- best player on our team. You can tell when he's in the lineup and he's playing, he's by far a big catalyst for our club. Not sure what the deal with Prongs is, if he's coming back or not, but looking ahead for this franchise, definitely [Giroux] is going to be our leader and our best player."

Jaromir Jagr was 26 in 1998 when he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins -- two years older than Giroux is now -- and said Giroux is far better equipped now than he was then as far as being prepared to step into a leadership role.

"You always felt that missing part in the dressing room. Prongs is probably one of the best guys. He can be your best friend, but if you're not playing hard he's going to let you know. I think we miss that."
-- Scott Hartnell

"He's a very likeable guy in the dressing room. He works hard every day," Jagr said. "I think he's ready. He's not afraid to speak to the guys whenever they need it. I was a captain and I think he's better than me at age 24. I don't think I was ready when I was a captain. I think there's no problem. Plus there's a lot of young guys, so he doesn't have to be ashamed or afraid to say something because there's some older guys. … I know he's only 24, 25, but he's older than half of the team. That's great."

Giroux wasn't lobbying for the captaincy, but said if it was offered, he'd be ready for it.

"If the time is right, yeah, I think so," he said.

Holmgren, however, said he thinks the leadership on his team is fine as it is, including Pronger as its captain.

"Right now Chris Pronger is our captain," Holmgren said. "Until he's deemed unable to play next year, I don't want to get into that. Claude is a good young leader on our hockey team. I think we have good older leaders, too, in Kimmo and Danny Briere. I think we make too much of this captaincy thing. That's my opinion. Right now Chris is our captain -- and that's how it's going to stay until he's deemed not a player."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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