Chris Pronger won’t return until playoffs after rehab setback

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Just the other day, a friend asked me to handicap the Eastern Conference playoff race, but I couldn’t help but hesitate. Sure, the Boston Bruins are looking intermittently big and bad. The Washington Capitals are really heating up in the second half of the season, too. Yet it will be difficult to gauge the field until it is clear if the Philadelphia Flyers will have a healthy Chris Pronger in their lineup.

When he’s even hovering around 100 percent, Pronger’s intelligence and intimidating presence makes him the kind of difference maker who transforms a mediocre goalie into a good one and a good netminder into a borderline star. The Flyers were hoping to give their big, bruising blueliner a chance to shake off some rust by playing the final game or two of the season, but that probably isn’t in the cards anymore.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren admits that Pronger’s rehab might have been pushed a little too quickly, telling CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio that he won’t return during the regular season. While that is tough news to take, Panaccio reports that sources in Holmgren and Pronger’s camps also shot down rumors that the elite defenseman underwent “some sort of new medical procedure” on his hand, so it wasn’t all bad news today.

Holmgren denied rumors that Pronger had some sort of new medical procedure on his hand when the Flyers were in Pittsburgh earlier this week. Sources close to Pronger say they are not aware of such, either.

“No, he did not,” Holmgren told CSNPhilly.com.

Holmgren said that Pronger, who was taking hard shots this week and last, “probably pushed it a little bit too quickly on the rehab.”

“Chris wants to play,” Holmgren said. “Maybe we got the cart a little bit ahead of the horse there.”

Some Flyers fans worry about all the mileage Pronger has accumulated over the last several seasons, especially since his current contract is a 35+ deal that won’t expire until after the 2016-17 season.

After playing all 82 games the last two seasons, he’s been limited to 50 games in 2010-11. He’s also seeing less ice time lately, averaging only 22:30 minutes per game after averaging between 26 and 30 minutes per game for most of his stellar career.

No doubt about it, Pronger is one of the biggest game-changers in the league – defensively or otherwise – when he is healthy. It looks like that will be a big “if” though. We’ll keep you updated about his condition as the playoffs rapidly approach.

NHL Trade Deadline: Overrated players, Erik Karlsson’s future (PHT Roundtable)

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The NHL trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m. ET and we’ve already seen a handful of trades from teams looking to strengthen for a playoff push and others selling off assets with an eye on the future.

There are still plenty of deals to come over the next few days, so the PHT team of myself, James O’Brien, Adam GretzJoey Alfieri and Scott Billeck discussed teams looking to make trades and some of the names out there.

1. What team(s) need to make to make a trade or two before the deadline and why?

SEAN LEAHY: The New York Islanders sit just outside of the playoffs in the East and while we know they can score, they can’t keep the puck out of their net. They lead the NHL in goals allowed (223), so an upgrade in goal would be ideal, but that market isn’t very fruitful with three days until the deadline. If not in goal, then the blue line, surely. Ryan McDonagh is out there, but trading with the Rangers would require an overpayment. Would Peter Chiarelli pick up the phone if he sees Garth Snow calling again to maybe inquire about Oscar Klefbom or Adam Larsson?

Out West, Nashville Predators GM David Poile has never been one to shy away from strengthening his team. He added Kyle Turris in October and will get Mike Fisher back next week. Olympic stud Eeli Tolvanen may also join the team very soon. But after coming within two games of winning a Cup last year, the Predators are once again in position to challenge for a title.

“I think we’re closer to doing nothing than to do something,” Poile said recently. But he’s a general manager, and we shouldn’t believe anything they say around trade deadline. If an opportunity is there, he’s going to take it. Is Rick Nash worth adding if it means giving up someone like a Dante Fabbro after sending Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamenev away in the Turris deal?

JAMES O’BRIEN: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders. These three teams see a remarkable forking path ahead. Each could easily miss the playoffs entirely, which would be an enormous failure for all involved (in the case of the Isles, for all we know, it may factor into John Tavares‘ future). Fascinatingly, all three teams could also be easily be seen as dangerous with the right tweaks. While they all have varied needs to fill, the general theme is getting that “extra oomph.”

(Note: Apologies for the highly technical jargon.)

With a little more balance, these teams could go from first-round fodder to terrifying dark horse. Sometimes it’s wise just to stand pat; other times GMs need to make that extra effort, even if it merely sends a message to current roster players that they’re going for it.

Missing the playoffs would be bad no matter what, but it would be far better if they went out swinging rather than flinching at strikes.

ADAM GRETZ: If I am Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford I push all of my chips to the center of the table and go all in on this trade deadline. They have a chance to make history and you do not get that opportunity very often. You only get so many years of players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang and you owe it to yourself to put them in the best possible position to win. Once those players get older or retire the team is going to stink and need to rebuild anyway, and there is no prospect or draft pick in the organization right now that is going to change. This is all especially true when you have a chance to go back-to-back-to-back. No prospect or draft pick should be off limits. Get another center. Improve the defense. Get creative with the salary cap. Whatever you have to do.

JOEY ALFIERI: Even though the Penguins have turned their season around, I still feel like they need to add another forward or two before Monday. It doesn’t have to be a major acquisition, but just another capable two-way player that can play on the third line and on the penalty kill.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues have both seen their play drop over the last few weeks, so if they want to make a push for a playoff spot, I feel like they need to give their players a jolt by adding a body. Missing the playoffs shouldn’t be an option for either team, especially after the success they had last season.

SCOTT BILLECK: New York Islanders. They need to stop the bleeding on the back end. They’ve allowed a league-high 223 goals against, which is 12 more than the Senators. Ottawa is nowhere near the playoff picture, but the Islanders right in the mix in the wildcard race thanks to their penchant for scoring goals. A good defenseman would help. Something has to change with that .901 in the team save percentage department. Get in quick before all the good players are gone.

Columbus Blue Jackets. They need some scoring. Desperately, it would seem given their recent slide. Evander Kane, anyone? The return of Rick Nash? Mike Hoffman is available. The sooner the better in this case.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

2. What players who are considered trade bait are being overrated?

LEAHY: Tomas Plekanec’s production has dropped off a cliff since 2015-16 and he has 15 goals and 50 points in his last 137 games. Consider he was good for double digit goals and around 50 points a season for a long time. Teams are always looking to bolster their depth, especially down the middle, and while he can win you a face-off, (52.5 percent) there are definitely better options at center who are out there.

O’BRIEN: Mike Green – It pains me to say this, as in the past, Green’s absorbed excessive criticism for his flaws on the defensive end. Those exaggerations are now sliding closer to being the cold, hard reality for a blue liner who might need a highly specialized, sheltered role to be worth a look.

Jack Johnson – He’s really bad. Maybe there’s a scenario where a team could find the right style fit for him, but considering JJ’s cap hit, it’s tough to imagine him being worth giving up even a so-so asset.

Thomas Vanek – Yes, you can work limited players with specific skills into an advantageous situation. There’s a scenario where Vanek could be an older version of 2016-17 Sam Gagner, serving as the “trigger” on a PP that sets the table for him. Still, he can’t really do much on his own any longer, and you might as well go for a more spry “all-offense” option.

GRETZ: I think Derick Brassard is probably approaching that overrated territory. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good player. But he seems to be slowing down a bit in recent years, he carries a pretty big salary cap, and since the Senators do not have to trade him the price is probably going to be extremely high. Is it worth it? I am not sure. The other guy? Evander Kane. Again, pretty good player. But that seems to be the extent of it. Every year we hear about his talent and how he could have a breakout year and how he can be a dynamic player, and every year he is the same good but not great player. He has topped 50 points once in his career. He is a free agent after this season. He just seems a little overrated. I would also add Patrick Maroon to that list. He had a big shooting percentage driven performance a year ago and he has that “heavy hockey” pedigree hockey people love for the playoffs, but I would not give up a huge price for him.

ALFIERI: I don’t get the fuss over Patrick Maroon. He’s big, he’s scored some goals over the last couple of years, but I just don’t think he should be a priority for any team looking for a winger that can score. Obviously there are much better options on the market as of right now. Of course, it all depends on the price, but I don’t think the Oilers would be interested in giving him away, even if he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Tomas Plekanec is still a useful player, but his offensive game is practically non-existent. I’d take him on my team if he’s slotted correctly on the depth chart. At this point, the veteran should be seen as a fourth-line center on a very good hockey team. There will be a market for him if the Canadiens are willing to deal him.

BILLECK: Thomas Vanek – He won’t help you defensively and is questionable to show up in the playoffs.

Patrick Maroon – He did a lot of good things with Connor McDavid. But anyone can do that. Maybe he needs a change of scenery, but he’s a little too slow for today’s game.

Mike Green – This isn’t your late 2000s Mike Green. Instead, you get a defenseman who doesn’t do play much defense and doesn’t put up points like he used to.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

3. What not-so-outlandish trade do you think should happen but ultimately won’t?

SEAN LEAHY: It’ll never, ever happen (OK, maybe it’s outlandish) but makes a lot of sense for all involved. Henrik Lundqvist to the New York Islanders. King Henrik gets to stay in New York, the Rangers can get some of those extra picks Garth Snow picked up from the Calgary Flames last year and the Islanders solve their goaltending issue. Lundqvist still has three more years left on his contract so future visits to MSG would be preeeeetty interesting.

JAMES O’BRIEN: Freeing Max Pacioretty. For the sake of entertainment, I hope I’m wrong.

More and more, the Montreal Canadiens feel like they’re going to handle things like the Vancouver Canucks did with Erik Gudbranson: clinging onto hope for the present when they should be setting the stage for the future. At 29 and with a deal that expires after 2018-19, “Patches” simply makes more sense on a contender, which the Habs aren’t this season and may not be next year. How refreshing would it be to see a far-too-frequent scapegoat get a new lease on life as more of a supporting cast member?

It smells a lot like Phil Kessel making a huge impact on the Penguins. It’s all so fun that, of course, it probably won’t happen.

ADAM GRETZ: Mike Green going back to Washington. Just because it seems like it would have been a lot of fun. But with the Capitals adding two defensemen to round out their third pairing over the past week it just does not seem like something that is in the cards.

JOEY ALFIERI: It’s pretty clear that Max Pacioretty needs a change of scenery. He hasn’t been noticeable on the ice over the last little while, which makes you wonder if the trade rumors are getting to him. 30-goal scorers that can kill penalties don’t grow on trees, so the Canadiens will have to get a great offer to part ways with him. He’s not a rental (he has one year left on his contract), so GM Marc Bergevin doesn’t have to deal him at the deadline to get something for him.

SCOTT BILLECK: Mats Zuccarello to the Winnipeg Jets. Jets fans are salivating at the thought of having another Mathieu Perreault on their roster. Perreault has been so good for the Jets that adding a similar player would have had a bolstering effect throughout their forward contingent. The problem here is price tag. The trend this year is that every player available seems to have a price tag with more markup than a Mercedes. Cheveldayoff isn’t into trading picks and assets. He’s barely into trading at all. It should happen. It’s a trade that has the potential to put the Jets over the top. But the asking price may be too much for  Chevy to budge.

Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

4. Erik Karlsson trade: Does it happen before the deadline or in the summer, and who should be at the front of the line for him?

SEAN LEAHY: I can’t see a GM overwhelming Pierre Dorion with an offer by Monday’s deadline. Unless Karlsson threatens to sit out, the Ottawa Senators GM should wait it out, much like Joe Sakic did with Matt Duchene. The team doesn’t need to trade Karlsson now. Wait for the draft and the summer when the other 30 teams know their salary cap situation and have an idea of what sort of enticing package they could offer.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman should be calling Dorion now planting seeds for a summer deal. Mikhail Sergachev is a nice start, and if you’re a buyer, maybe work out a sign-and-trade thereby ensuring an extra year of Karlsson, who’s signed through 2019.

JAMES O’BRIEN: Karlsson seems most likely to move during the summer.

To start, draft positions will crystallize. The Senators would need one heck of a haul, so why risk moving Karlsson for a package that includes a mystery first-rounder?

Honestly, any team that aggressively wants to contend should ante up. Karlsson would be a lot of fun to watch with Auston Matthews in Toronto, burning everyone alongside Connor McDavid, or even landing on a team like the Dallas Stars. (Imagine trying to protect a one-goal lead with Karlsson, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Alex Radulov on the ice.)

If forced to pick one team, I’d go with the Oilers, because they need to make a desperate swing to improve. Why not just go the super-obvious route? Karlsson can cure a lot of ills, even if the organization continues to blunder on the margins.

ADAM GRETZ: Think it happens at the trade deadline. It would be an almost unheard of trade given Karlsson’s talent level — players like him almost never get traded — but what choice do the Senators have? They do not seem to be in a position to re-sign him, and you can not lose him for nothing. This is when his value is highest because whatever team gets him gets two playoff runs with him. Who should be at the top of the list? I don’t know, Tampa Bay or Philadelphia.

JOEY ALFIERI: Like Pacioretty, Karlsson has another year left on his deal so the Sens don’t have to make this move right now. I think it’ll get done at the draft. It’s just too difficult for a team to pull that kind of trade off in February. The Tampa Bay Lightning should be all-in when it comes to Karlsson. Imagine having Hedman and Karlsson on the same blue line. Come playoff time, the Bolts could have those two guys play 30 minutes each. No matter when this trade happens, Steve Yzerman should try to pull it off.

SCOTT BILLECK: Before the deadline (although it shouldn’t be happening at all). If the Bruins could make it work, they could continue taking great defenseman from the Senators (see Zdeno Chara) and going to Stanley Cups with them. If the Islanders can’t keep Tavares, maybe there is something there given all the cap space that would free up. Edmonton? That’s a juicy one as well. This is a tough one because whatever team wants Karlsson has to give up so many assets to get him.

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Rangers react to management ‘throwing in the towel’

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Earlier this month, New York Rangers management issued a letter to their fans about the new direction the team would be going in. Instead of pushing for a playoff spot, they decided that it was time to “be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character. This may mean we lose some familiar faces, guys we all care about and respect. While this is part of the game, it’s never easy.” Basically, they’re rebuilding, re-tooling, or whatever other word you want to use to describe a roster overhaul.

At the time, many, including myself, thought it was very progressive of the Rangers to outline their future plans to their fans. But after spending a few minutes in the locker room on Thursday morning, I’ve changed my mind.

Prior to Thursday’s game against the Canadiens, the Rangers held their morning skate at the Bell Centre in Montreal. After the skate was over, the assembled media was allowed into the room. Mats Zuccarello and David Desharnais were just two of the players made available. After talking to them for a few minutes, you could see how that kind of letter has affected the players in a negative way.

Here’s some of the quotes that stood out:

• Mats Zuccarello on the mood changing in the room:

“I mean, we try to keep it the same, but there’s a lot of thinking about what’s going to happen and stuff. I think that’s normal. No one wants to be in this situation. Sometimes it’s hard, especially when you’re losing and there are a lot of rumors and all that. I think in about six days (after the trade deadline), the mood is going to get a little bit better, hopefully.”

• Zuccarello on his name popping up in rumors:

“I’ve been here for a while and I don’t really know any other organization. It’s hard to sleep sometimes and you think a lot, but at the end of the day it’s part of the game and when you’re not performing at the level the team should be or hoping to be, it’s normal that these questions and all the rumors comes up. You just have to deal with it.”

• David Desharnais on Rangers going in different direction:

“I think they thought we were not as good as they thought we’d be and they’re just going to move in another direction. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, but it’s just part of hockey.

• Desharnais on the letter:

“They told us before (they published it), so it wasn’t a surprise for us, but at the same time it kind of is. It’s like (management is) throwing in the towel. We just have to keep fighting and prove them wrong.”

• Alain Vigneault on how difficult it is to keep team morale up after the letter (quote translated from French to English):

“It’s a situation that’s unusual. When the story first came out in January, we were in a playoff spot. We were the first Wild Card team. When the official announcement came out a few weeks ago, we were only three points out of a playoff spot. So it’s definitely an unusual situation for a team to be in. [Management] asked me what I thought our chances of winning the Stanley Cup were this year, and I said ‘I may not have won with better teams, but I’m convinced we could make the playoffs.’ The first time they asked me, we were sitting in a playoff spot and I’m convinced that we’d still be in a playoff spot. Like I always said, once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. Just look at Nashville last year, they were the 16th team in the playoffs and they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Organizations make decisions and there’s no doubt that right now, for everyone in the organization, it’s an unusual situation that’s not easy to manage.”

Later on in the afternoon, the Rangers let it be known that they’d be making forwards Rick Nash and Michael Grabner healthy scratches for the game against the Habs because trades were close to happening. New York then hopped on the ice and was just flat for most of the game. The team eventually shipped Grabner to the New Jersey Devils for a second-rounder and a prospect.

There’s nothing wrong with looking at your team’s chances of winning and deciding to blow it up. The Rangers’ intentions were good. They wanted to keep their fans up to date on what the plan moving forward was going to be, but it seems like they didn’t consider their players when they made that decision.

Yes, most of the players will be on their way out anyway, and yes, no one feels bad for athletes making millions of dollars, but it just doesn’t seem like they treated their players fairly in this case.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Woe, Canada: Germany ousts Canada 4-3

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Canada’s topsy-turvy Olympics was dealt a heavy blow Friday night as Germany shocked the two-time defending Olympic champions 4-3 in the men’s hockey semifinals.

The loss came a day after Canada’s women’s hockey team was denied a fifth straight gold in a shootout against the rival Americans and amid the despair of having no chance at medals in men’s or women’s curling.

“They came out ready to play,” Canada forward Rob Klinkhammer said. “We didn’t. They were the better team.”

Without NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Drew Doughty, elite goaltender Carey Price — and certainly don’t forget Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock — Canada was skated out of the building by coach Marco Sturm’s team that now faces an even stiffer test in the favored Russians in Sunday’s final.

After winning back-to-back gold medals in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, and three of the past four dating to 2002, Canada’s self-described band of journeymen will play the Czech Republic for bronze on Saturday.

“We did not match their work ethic,” Canada forward Derek Roy said. “It stings a lot. It is not a good feeling to lose a game like that.”

Canada has only settled for a bronze medal twice in 21 previous Olympic men’s hockey tournaments and took home gold or silver in each of the six games with women’s hockey.

“We obviously let a big one get away from us,” Klinkhammer said.

Canada will likely play for bronze without top-liner Gilbert Brule, who was ejected for a brutal hit to the head of David Wolf at center ice, one of several bad penalties by an uncharacteristically undisciplined team coached by Willie Desjardins.

Desjardins and his staff made some adjustments at the first intermission, but never called a timeout when Germany went up 3-0 or 4-1. Kevin Poulin was starting in net because No. 1 goalie Ben Scrivens injured his shoulder/collarbone area in a collision in the quarterfinal against Finland, and he allowed goals scored by Brooks Macek, Matthias Plachta, Frank Mauer and Patrick Hager on 15 shots.

Poulin refused to speak to reporters afterward. There weren’t many answers for what happened to the team that had looked dominant against Finland.

“I don’t know,” forward Andrew Ebbett said. “Just a couple penalties there early on. We were in the box the whole second period. It’s tough to win a hockey game when you’re killing penalties that whole time. We maybe needed two, three, five more minutes there at the end maybe to tie it up, but it was too late.”

Canada outshot Germany 15-1 in the third period but couldn’t climb all the way back after digging a deep hole. It started with high-sticking and faceoff violation penalties 36 seconds apart and unraveled when Macek scored.

He’s a dual citizen who was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but didn’t look the slightest bit conflicted as he pumped his fist following a 5-on-3 power-play goal. A good player with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans and Calgary Hitmen, Macek looked like a star playing in the Olympics against Canada.

Danny aus den Birken was good again in net in making 28 saves, but Canada also struggled to break Germany’s suffocating neutral-zone trap to even get into the offensive zone for quality scoring chances and couldn’t cash in when there.

Canada lost in the quarterfinals in Turin in 2006 with NHL players on its roster, but this loss is still hard to take for a nation that has already set a national Winter Games medals record with 27. Canada won four gold medals in freestyle skiing and two in figure skating, where it has seven overall. Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue and Kelsey Serwa have been among Canada’s heroes but the curling and hockey teams so intertwined with the nation’s sporting identity came away disappointed.

“No reason for it,” Ebbett said. “It’s Olympic semifinal, chance to play for the gold and we just didn’t bring it in the first 20 minutes and they obviously were ready.”

PHT Morning Skate: OAR will play for gold; What can Blues give in trade?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Olympic Athletes from Russia are going to play for gold at the Olympics. They’ll take on Germany in the final. (NBC Olympics)

• Sean McIndoe looks at 10 annoying things NHL GMs say at trade deadline time, including “we’re not going to make a deal for the sake of making a deal.” (Sportsnet)

• Here’s an interesting story about the most disgusting things players have seen on the ice. (ESPN)

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

• The Sharks acquired Eric Fehr from Toronto this week, but is he really an upgrade on what San Jose already has? (Fear the Fin)

• The Canucks are betting on Erik Gudbranson‘s potential (Canucks Army)

• After picking up Nick Holden from New York, the Bruins have too many defensemen. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• Could the Flyers be interested in Sabres forward Sam Reinhert? (Broad Street Hockey)

• The Devils acquired Michael Grabner from the Rangers, but what would it take to sign him to a contract extension? (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• Speaking of Grabner, Blue Shirt Banter breaks down the trade that saw him go from New York to New Jersey. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• Here are four wingers the Leafs could look to acquire before Monday’s trade deadline. (Leafs Nation)

• Bleedin’ Blue breaks down what assets the St. Louis Blues can give in a trade at the deadline. (Bleedin Blue)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.