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Quest for the Cup: Flyers deal for Pronger

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There are a few common beliefs regarding trades in sports.

One is that you have to give up something to get something in return. There are times in sports where the “something” is a certainty, a proven player who will pay immediate dividends. There are times that it is much more of a gamble, such as a draft pick or an unproven commodity. Another belief is that the team who obtains the single best player in the trade is the team who will reap the largest benefits. Quite often, the sum of the lesser parts does not measure up to the top prize.

On Friday, the evening of the NHL draft, the Philadelphia Flyers made a bold roster move when they obtained defenseman Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks (along with prospect Ryan Dingle) in exchange for gifted forward Joffrey Lupul, a very talented young defenseman Luca Sbisa, a 2009 and 2010 first round draft pick, and a conditional 2010 or 2011 third round draft pick.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren undoubtedly made a statement by acquiring Pronger, a Hall of Fame caliber defenseman who has been a league MVP (back in 1999-2000) and has led two different teams to the Stanley Cup finals, winning once. In this case the Flyers gave up plenty of talent, but Pronger is clearly the prize player involved. Let’s break this trade down a little further.

First and foremost, a player of Pronger’s caliber immediately makes the Flyers a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. Despite his age (he is 34 - the same as Kimmo Timonen) and the mileage on his body, he is still an impact player at a crucial position. While he is almost certainly on the downside of his career, it is important to note that he has shown very little signs of slowing down. He is a big, nasty, mobile, puck-moving defenseman with a gift to score and a desire to punish the opposition. His addition to the Flyers sends a message to the rest of the league (paging Sidney Crosby) that they will no longer accept punishment; now they will dish it instead. His arrival will almost certainly ease some pressure from the shoulders of Braydon Coburn, the young and promising defenseman who was viewed by many as regressing this past season.

In Pronger, Timonen, and Coburn, the Flyers have a top three defense corps that is suddenly very formidable, especially with the added development of young Ryan Parent. In his only year in Edmonton in 2005-2006, Pronger helped the team advance within one win of a Stanley Cup. The next year, in Anaheim, he helped the Ducks get that final win and hoisted the Cup for the first time. It is without a doubt that he is the type of player that could do the same for the men in orange and black, perhaps as soon as this year. Pronger only has one year remaining on his existing contract, which enhances the risk and reward aspect of this deal. Without a doubt, Paul Holmgren went out and got something special. Let’s now analyze the “something” he gave up.

In exchange, the Flyers parted ways with Joffrey Lupul, a 25 goal scorer with the talent and potential to score even more. However, Lupul also carried with him a heavy contract that would pay him 17 million over the next 4 years. So, in today’s era of NHL salary cap demand, departing with Lupul was a sort of an addition by subtraction; his contract outweighed his consistent play on the ice.

Interestingly, this is the second time that Lupul has been traded for Pronger, as he was also involved in the deal that sent Pronger from Edmonton to Anaheim in 2006. In addition to Lupul, the Flyers dispatched last year’s first round draft pick (19th overall) Luca Sbisa, a very promising 19 year old defenseman who has the potential to haunt the Flyers for years to come. In his brief time last year with the Flyers, Sbisa showed a great deal of poise and puck skills. Time will tell if he flourishes as a star in the NHL, but his youth and ability are unquestioned. The Flyers also traded two first round draft picks and a third round draft pick. All in all, Holmgren shipped a ton of young talent for a player that is not signed beyond 2010 and could conceivably play only one year in Philadelphia.

Still, it is the hope of Holmgren and Flyers fans across the Delaware Valley that Pronger’s arrival will bring an end to the city’s lengthy quest for the Stanley Cup. His recent immediate impact in Edmonton and Anaheim serve as mouth watering proof that this could be so. Not since the days of Brad McCrimmon and Mark Howe in the mid-1980’s have the Flyers had a pair of defensemen as exceptional as Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger. On Friday evening, Paul Holmgren took a gamble to win now. He recently announced the agreement to sign talented goaltender Ray Emery. He knows that Jeff Carter is only signed for two more years and that Timonen himself is not getting any younger. The window of opportunity is here and now. Opportunity has arrived from Southern California in the shape of a 6-foot-6, 220 pound brute force named Pronger.

Holmgren gave up a large sum of young talent in order to get his man. As a general manager, his job is to make his team the best it can be. It is a gamble, yes. But he has proven that he’s a gambler. As Kenny Rogers once said, “there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.”

 

The quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup begins immediately.

 

(Photo courtesy of www.hockeyhermit.com)