When Flyers clutch defenseman Chris Pronger went out of the lineup with a broken hand, many around Philadelphia started to stress a bit. Why wouldn’t they? The Flyers had cooled off to a point where they were in a slump and the Capitals, Bruins, and Penguins were all hot on their heels in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference after being distant from the lead for so long.
There’s no doubt that Pronger is the lynchpin to the Flyers defense and as he goes so does their ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard. No offense to veteran Nick Boynton and AHL call-up Erik Gustafsson, they’re just nowhere near the same kind of player.
With those guys set to fill in for Pronger in his absence, you can’t blame Pronger for wanting to get back before the start of the playoffs which is just what he’s trying to do as Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly finds out today. Being ready for the playoffs is his main priority and the ever quotable Pronger said as much.
Asked if he’d be 100 percent for the playoffs, “That’s the way it looks right now,” Pronger said. “[My doctor] is very happy with the way surgery went and the way everything looked when he went inside there to fix it …
“As far as we can tell [I’ll be ready], but none of us are Kreskin. We don’t really know what is going to happen.”
You can virtually see the disgust on Pronger’s face when addressing these questions, it’s fantastic. It’s also great news for the Flyers that he’s intent on getting back just before the start of the playoffs. With a targeted date of April 5 to get back, that would give him a handful of games in the regular season to get warmed up for the postseason.
As to who or even where they’ll end up in the first round is still up for debate. With the Capitals on fire and trying to catch them for the top spot and the Penguins right there threatening for the division lead, it’s possible they could end up the fourth seed and if Tampa Bay managed to get hot again, they could even end up fifth. It’s not likely that that could happen, but we’ve seen stranger things.
While the Flyers have been battling to stay on top of both the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division, their struggles just got a little harder today. The Flyers announced today that defensive stalwart Chris Pronger will miss the next 3-4 weeks of action after getting surgery to repair his broken hand. Helping Pronger get back as fast as 3-4 weeks will be made possible thanks to a screw being inserted into his hand. Just as we feared, Chris Pronger is more machine than he is man.
For Pronger to miss out on this much time essentially puts him out until the start of the playoffs. Getting the next few weeks off ideally gives Pronger the opportunity to recharge his batteries while dealing with an obnoxiously tricky injury. After all, your hand is pretty important in hockey and having it broken delays him being able to do hockey activities since holding your own stick is difficult.
What makes the timing of this injury tricky is the current place in the standings the Flyers find themselves in. The Capitals are streaking up the ladder while the Penguins have been on their heels the last couple weeks as the Flyers have gone from on fire all year to dealing with inconsistent play and, worst of all, losses. While the Flyers have been on top of the Eastern Conference all season, now they’re staring potentially a fourth or fifth seed possibility in the face. Going from having home ice throughout the East playoffs to not even having home ice in the first round is a possibility that didn’t seem likely just a few weeks ago.
Taking Pronger’s spot in the starting lineup will likely be recently acquired Nick Boynton. Boyton’s a steady defensive-minded guy on the blue line but certainly not in the same class as Pronger. Erik Gustafsson will be called up from the AHL to help fill out the roster. The Flyers have had it relatively simple for most of the year but getting this brand of test before the playoffs will be a character builder for the team. Getting the reward of having Pronger return for the first round of the playoffs would provide the kind of boost the team will need to get through the NHL postseason.
As the schedule winds down and the pressure picks up, any injury has a huge effect on how things go. The Flyers losing Chris Pronger for tonight’s game against Toronto will be even tougher to overcome.
According to CSNPhilly’s Tim Panaccio, Pronger will be out of tonight’s game with a hand injury. Taking Pronger’s spot in the lineup will be recent acquisition Nick Boynton. Boynton plays a physical brand of hockey as well, but he’s no Pronger.
Philadelphia recently snapped a four game losing streak with a win over Edmonton on Tuesday night, but dealing with a Maple Leafs team that’s been a lot better of late will be a different sort of animal to handle. Doing so without Pronger gives guys like Phil Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski a bit more room on the ice to find their way to the net.
Injuries are all part of the game, obviously, but this one comes at a rough time for Philly as their lead in the Eastern Conference is down to just two points over the Washington Capitals and their lead in the Atlantic Division is just two over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It doesn’t sound as if Pronger’s injury is too serious, but every point makes a big difference down the stretch.
There was a notable amount of activity on the waiver wire this afternoon. To get you up to speed, we will break it down by players who were claimed (this post) and then those who were placed on waivers (the next post).
Marco Sturm claimed by Washington Capitals: I must admit, my first reaction to this was: “Don’t the Capitals realize that Sturm is broken?” Yes, the Caps need a player like Sturm … if he could actually stay on the ice for an extended period of time. Sturm makes Ales Hemsky look like the Cal Ripken Jr. of hockey. The injury prone winger is in the final year of a contract that registers a $3.5 million cap hit, with a little under $810K remaining.
Columbus Blue Jackets pick up Craig Rivet: The Buffalo Sabres were forced to place Rivet on re-entry waivers (and therefore take on half of his salary), but they got rid of their captain-turned-stiff when the Blue Jackets made a claim. This is the second over-the-hill captain waiver addition made by Scott Howson & Co. this season, as he also claimed Ethan Moreau from the Edmonton Oilers. Rivet also has $3.5 million about $810K left on his deal, so both teams will take an approximate $405K hit from this move.
Philadelphia Flyers claim Nick Boynton: Finally, the Flyers made up for the loss of Oskars Bartulis by claiming Boynton from the Chicago Blackhawks. Boynton keeps bouncing around the league but is a cheap, veteran option at $500K for the year or about $116K for the rest of the season.
The other fun side of the trade deadline coming up is the effect it has on teams and what they do to either move guys in and out of their lineup or to help clear out salary space. Waivers plays a big part in that and today we saw yesterday’s waiver players Mike Smith and Steve Bernier both clear. Smith was called up by Tampa Bay and he’ll now join a different goaltending logjam of sorts with Dwayne Roloson and Curtis McElhinney who was acquired from Anaheim yesterday. Bernier could suit up for the Panthers again tonight.
Hitting the waiver wire today are a couple of big names going through on re-entry waivers. Sabres defenseman Craig Rivet and Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore are both coming through on the half-price discount waivers so their teams can try to get someone to take them off their hands for half the cap hit they’d be worth. For Commodore, he’s been through this already this season with no takers. He’s been playing for AHL Springfield since being demoted earlier this year.
Rivet, the Sabres captain, was just waived the other day and now that he’s being put through on re-entry waivers the Sabres are hoping to both be free of him and to give him the chance to play elsewhere this year. Rivet is in the final year of a deal that pays him $3.5 million against the cap. That amount pro-rated works out to be virtually nothing and he could provide a veteran presence on the blue line for a team in need.
Other guys hitting the wire in the regular way today are Kings forward Marco Sturm, Blackhawks defenseman Nick Boynton, Predators brawler Wade Belak, Rangers forward Kris Newbury, and Caps minor league goalie Todd Ford.
Sturm being waived comes as a surprise given that he was acquired from Boston earlier this year to give the Kings offense a lift. He hasn’t done that to GM Dean Lombardi’s liking and injuries have continued to make him ineffective. Boynton has been forced out of the mix in Chicago thanks to the play of youngster Nick Leddy.
Newbury is going through waivers so he can be sent back to the AHL while Belak is likely out of the mix in Nashville now that Jordin Tootoo is back. About all we can tell you about Todd Ford is that he’s got a really bad-ass goalie mask.