If you ask me, the Philadelphia Flyers’ off-season was often misguided. They’re paying Ilya Bryzgalov too much for too long and they gave up players who helped them build their most obvious strength last season: an overwhelming group of offensive forwards.
That being said, those changes don’t guarantee that the Flyers will be “bad” next season. They still have a lot of talent at the forward position (though they will miss Mike Richards’ two-way aptitude and Jeff Carter’s volume of goals) and Bryzgalov is an above average goalie. Really, what it might all come down to is an obvious question with an unclear answer: will Chris Pronger be healthy?
The last time we checked, Pronger’s rehab process from off-season back surgery wasn’t looking particularly promising. Chuck Gormley provided an update on Pronger today: Pronger is “progressing nicely” from the surgery but Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said that he might miss the beginning of training camp. Holmgren said that Pronger was allowed to “step up” his rehab last week after a hand and back specialist took a look at him.
“He’s pushed things up another level in terms of his rehab and his workouts, so he’s on the right track,” Holmgren said.
“He’s doing more than he was a week ago. We’ll have a better idea when he comes back. If he’s not ready to take part in the early part of camp I don’t think that’s a big deal. Obviously, the most important thing is the regular season. We’ll deal with it on a daily basis.”
I agree with Holmgren that missing some (maybe even all) of training camp isn’t a big deal for a long-time veteran like Pronger. Although there would be some benefits from Philly’s behemoth defenseman getting acquainted with their franchise goalie, Pronger doesn’t need much time to provide a massive benefit to the goalie he guards.
Well, a healthy Pronger provides a massive benefit, at least. That caveat is one of the scariest shadows that hangs over the long-term competitiveness of this Flyers team. Pronger’s $4.9 million annual cap hit will be a reality (barring a lucky trade) for the Flyers for the next six years whether he plays or not, so seeing him struggle with injuries in the 2010-11 – the first year of his 35+ contract – was worrisome.
Pronger’s health is one of the big questions in a litany of interesting storylines for this very different Flyers team. He makes a huge difference when he’s on the ice, but we’ll see how often that happens during the next six years.