Chris Pronger’s contract, health could be a big problem for the Philadelphia Flyers

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Amid all the negativity about that messy second round sweep and all of the goaltending headaches, the Philadelphia Flyers do have some good things going for them. Most of the positives probably reside in their forward ranks, as the team seems to discover a new gem every year.

(Last year, it was Danny Briere’s rebirth plus the rise of Claude Giroux and Ville Leino. This time around, James van Riemsdyk’s power forward game seemed to jump a few levels once the playoffs kicked in.)

The easy thing to do is kick the team around for the way they handle their goalies and there’s little doubt that they made some big mistakes this time around. Yet that simple scapegoating obscures a bigger, scarier problem: the Flyers defense was lousy at times.

Whether it be the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers or Anaheim Ducks, defenses that lost Chris Pronger’s presence fell apart in the following season(s). So, in a way, it seems like the Flyers received a taste of the “Curse of Pronger” once injuries kept him from being a force and often kept him off the ice entirely.

That being said, the worst part about Pronger’s situation is that he won’t go away.

The numbers behind Pronger’s could-be albatross contract

Actually, by he, I mean his salary cap hit. If the “35+ rule” stays intact through the next Collective Bargaining Agreement or two, the Flyers could be stuck with Pronger’s $4.92 million salary cap hit through the 2016-17 season. Under the 35+ provision, the Flyers would be forced to deal with that damage even if he retires, which is likely considering the fact that he would be 42 on October 10, 2016. (In other words, he’d be 42 around the beginning of the 16-17 campaign.)

To really drive the point home about that contract, let’s take a look at the year-by-year breakdown. Again, keep in mind that his cap hit remains the same at $4.92 million. His already-completed 2010-11 season salary was $7.6 million, by the way. (Note: I know showing his age is kind of redundant, but it really emphasizes how bad the situation could be.)

2011-12 salary: $7.6M; Age: 37
12-13 salary: $7.2M; Age: 38
13-14 salary: $7M; Age: 39
14-15 salary: $4M; Age: 40
15-16 salary: $525K; Age: 41
16-17 salary: $525K; Age: 42

As you can see, the “loophole” years were supposed to come in the last three seasons. They still will be from a budgetary standpoint, but now the Flyers must bite their nails and hope that Pronger isn’t totally worthless in his twilight years.

So far, not so good

The 2010-11 season obviously wasn’t a great first audition. He only played in 50 regular season games and three out of 11 playoff contests while averaging an uncharacteristically low 22:30 of ice time per game. A typical Pronger workload ranged between 25 and 27 minutes in previous regular seasons.

Now, one bad year doesn’t guarantee that he’s totally done. He still has a miles-wide mean streak and an underrated understanding of the position. Those two things aren’t likely to wane in the coming years. He just needs to take the proper time to recover from knee (early season) and hand (late season/playoffs) problems that made this past season so incomplete.

Why he might not age like Nicklas Lidstrom

It’s tough to imagine him aging like Nicklas Lidstrom, the hockey equivalent to a quarterback whose quick decision making skills keeps him from taking career-shortening hits. Pronger is more like a middle linebacker: a tough as nails field general who often leads the charge. That fearsome quality is part of what made him possibly the biggest playoff difference maker at the defenseman position since the lockout, but it also might be his undoing.

The Flyers have plenty of interesting questions to answer during this summer, but Pronger’s health could end up being a make-or-break during the next six seasons.

WATCH LIVE: Game 1 for Penguins – Capitals, Rangers – Senators

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It’s really happening.

For all the griping about having the Penguins and Capitals meet in the second round (again), it’s easy to forget the bright side: upsets didn’t dislodge this juicy matchup from taking place.

The West’s duo of Game 1 matchups kicked into gear last night, and now the East provides that battle between Sidney Crosby‘s squad and Alex Ovechkin‘s loaded team. Don’t sleep on Rangers – Senators, either, though; there should be plenty of intrigue in seeing superhuman Swedes Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson try to one-up each other.

Here’s what you need to know to follow the action:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Sutter won’t retire from coaching, willing to join a rebuild

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Given he turns 59 this summer, has won a pair of Stanley Cups and coached over 1,000 NHL games, Darryl Sutter probably could’ve called it a career after getting fired by the Kings earlier this month, and done so comfortably.

But that’s not happening.

In speaking with TSN’s Gary Lawless, Sutter said he has no plans to retire from coaching. What’s more — and, perhaps more interesting — is that Sutter said he wouldn’t limit his next job solely to a contending team.

Currently, there are just two vacant coaching gigs in Buffalo and Florida. We wrote about the Panthers’ search earlier today (more on that here). The situation in Buffalo is more complex, as the Sabres need to hire a new general manager and coach. Logic suggests the GM will be hired first, then spearhead the new bench boss hire.

In that regard, Buffalo is pretty intriguing.

Though the Kings have yet to be contacted for an interview request, ex-GM Dean Lombardi has been tied to the Sabres gig. And Lombardi, of course, is forever tied to Sutter — he was the one that hired Sutter after a five-year coaching exodus to join the Kings, and the pair went on to achieve great success together.

That five-year coaching exodus does need to be mentioned, though.

History suggests that Sutter isn’t joking when he says he’ll be picky about the situation and won’t rush to find the right fit. After being dismissed in Calgary in 2006, he returned to work on the family farm in Viking, Alberta and seemed fairly content doing so.

That said, hockey always seems to draw him back.

“The game has given us everything,” Sutter told Lawless. “We still have lots to give.”

Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

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The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

“I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

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The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run