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.