Chris Pronger spoke to TSN Radio on Wednesday and revealed that he’s still about three weeks away from cranking up his off-season workouts. The 37-year-old had three surgeries last season, missed the beginning of the season, the end of the season, time in the playoffs, and may miss the beginning of training camp in September. He only scored 4 goals and 21 points in 50 games last season. Statistically, it was the worst season Pronger has experienced since he was breaking in with the Hartford Whalers in the mid-1990s.
The good news for fans is that Pronger had played all 82 games in both of the two preceding seasons. Regardless, when a physical defenseman gets into his late 30’s and starts having injury problems, people are going to start asking questions. Was the 2010-11 season an aberration or a sign of things to come?
Here’s a sampling of what Pronger said to the guys at TSN:
“I’m still probably three, three and a half weeks away from being able to train hard. I’m still walking on the treadmill, light bike riding. The back doctor wanted 12 weeks for me not doing a whole lot to allow that back area to scar up and then fully heal up before I start torquing and pushing on it hard,” said Pronger, who needed to remove a herniated disc that caused him back and leg problems.
“You want to win, you want to get back to the top and hold the Stanley Cup and go through that year of blood, sweat and tears with your teammates, and accomplishing something that very few people have an opportunity to do. Hopefully the rest of the summer goes well, and I continue to get healthy and things go in the right direction for me there,” he said. “We got off to a good start after a long grind of the playoffs from the previous year. Whether we hit a wall or whatever halfway through the year after Christmas, we just didn’t seem to get any better. We didn’t continue to push ourselves for whatever reason. It was almost like our development got stunted and we almost got worse.”
It’s no secret that the Flyers need a healthy Chris Pronger if they want to achieve the goals they set each season. This isn’t a team that is looking to make the playoffs or win a series—this is a team that wants to get back to the Stanley Cup Final and finish what they started the spring of 2010. Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Andrej Meszaros are all nice pieces, but without Chris Pronger anchoring the defense for 28 minutes per game in the playoffs, there’s an enormous void on the blueline that changes the entire complexion of the team. It doesn’t matter if they have a new star goaltender or not—they’ll still need to have Pronger shutting down opponents like he’s been doing for almost two decades.
The hint of panic around the Flyers is the fear that Pronger will never be the same player that he was when he was first acquired from the Ducks. His salary cap hit is almost $5 million and since he signed the contract after he turned 35, the contract will remain on the books whether he continues to play or retires before his contract ends in 2017. Sure, GM Paul Holmgren has proven he can magically make almost any salary work, but things could be a little different if they’re paying $5 million over multiple years for a player who has retired.
Of course, no one is saying Pronger is going to retire due to his current back injury. But with his body starting to break down and six more years left on his contract, will he really finish out the contract? One day down the road, we may see the ugly side of some of these long-term contract rear its ugly head for Philadelphia. That is, unless Pronger chooses to play as his body breaks down when the Flyers are only paying him the league minimum.