Edmonton Oilers v Philadelphia Flyers

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.

The Toews injury isn’t getting better, so Chicago’s captain will sit versus Jets

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 28:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 28, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, and they’ll do so without captain Jonathan Toews.

Toews will miss a fifth straight game because of a reported back injury.

On Sunday, per CSN Chicago, coach Joel Quenneville provided an update, saying the Blackhawks forward will now be kept off the ice for the next few days because the injury essentially isn’t getting any better.

The Blackhawks are coming off a 3-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, and they’re going through a difficult time with injuries to key players. Not only is Toews out, but goalie Corey Crawford has been sidelined for two to three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy.

Scott Darling will start in net tonight for Chicago, which has a three-point lead in the Central Division.

The Jets will be without their top point producer Mark Scheifele for a second straight game with a lower-body injury, per NHL.com.

Buffalo’s depth on defense is dwindling

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Josh Gorges #4 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on October 18, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres aren’t known for their depth on defense, so when they have to deal with injuries at that position, things can get complicated.

Well…I guess things are about to get complicated.

On Sunday, the Sabres announced that Josh Gorges (pictured) will miss “weeks” because of a non-displaced fracture in his foot. The injury occurred after he blocked a shot in Thursday’s game against the Rangers.

Besides Gorges, Buffalo is also without Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov.

Bogosian has been out since Nov. 3 with sprained ligaments in his knee, and he’s still 10-to-14 days away from getting back into the lineup.

The news is a little better for Kulikov, who returned to practice on Sunday. He’s missed 11 games because of a back injury he suffered in the preseason. He tried playing through it, but obviously he was still in some discomfort.

“Kulikov has now skated two days with some physicality and now been skating for seven days,” coach Dan Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News. “Hopefully, that means we’ll see him in practice soon – in the next week hopefully.”

Now, some of the replacements for these guys are starting to get hurt.

Taylor Fedun missed Sunday’s practice and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play against the Capitals on Monday night. If he can’t go, Buffalo will need to call someone up from the minors.

Things got so wacky last week that the Sabres called up Brendan Guhle from junior on an emergency basis. By rule, he can stay on the roster as long as he keeps playing. Once he stops playing, the emergency tag is removed and he has to go back to his junior team.

Guhle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson and Justin Falk are the healthy defensemen on the roster right now.

Goalie nods: Dubnyk looks to continue dominance of Oilers

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 07:  Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Minnesota Wild celbrates a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Playing against your old team is always special, but Devan Dubnyk takes it to another level when he goes up against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers drafted Dubnyk in the first round, 14th overall, in 2004 and he spent parts of five seasons with them.

Since leaving Edmonton in 2014, he’s won six of seven games against his former team.

To make matters worse for the Oilers, his individual stats are better against them than they are against any other team in the league. He has a  1.28 goals-against-average and a .949 save percentage in those seven games.

His numbers in 2016-17 aren’t as good as his career numbers against Edmonton, but he still has a fantastic 1.67 goals-against-average and a .946 save percentage this season.

Like the Wild, the Oilers played last night, as they won an OT decision against the Ducks.

Cam Talbot played in that game, so they’ll opt to start backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson tonight.

Elsewhere… 

Ben Bishop turned in a solid performance against the Capitals last night, but the Lightning still haven’t announced who their starter will be this afternoon. Cam Ward is likely to get the nod for the Hurricanes.

–The Flyers and Predators both played afternoon games yesterday, and neither side has indicated who will start. Don’t be surprised if it’s Steve Mason against Pekka Rinne.

Jared Coreau made his NHL debut for Detroit yesterday, so look for Petr Mrazek to get the call tonight. Jaroslav Halak is the probable starter for the Islanders.

–Look for Connor Hellebuyck to be between the pipes for the Jets, but that hasn’t been confirmed. With Corey Crawford hurt, don’t be surprised if Scott Darling gets his second start in two nights for Chicago.

–The Ducks will give backup Jonathan Bernier the start in Calgary. The Flames will continue to ride Chad Johnson.

Flames get Johnny Gaudreau back way ahead of schedule

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.

Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.

In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.

“I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.

“I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”

He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:

Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.

The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.

Related:

Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated

Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash