PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 02: Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers argues a call with referee Brad Meier #34 during the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Wachovia Center on April 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Chris Pronger is out for the season with severe concussion issues, and now the Flyers have to get by without him. How will they manage that?
Chris Pronger is out for the season, and the concussion he suffered at some point this season -- a time which we cannot seem to pinpoint -- might keep him out for longer than that. We don't want to jump ahead of ourselves, but let's be honest here: At 37-year-old injury plagued defenseman is suffering from severe post-concussion syndrome.
His career may be over.
For his team, the Philadelphia Flyers, that's the worst possible news imaginable. Not only is Pronger their captain and arguably the most important player on their roster, he's under contract for five more seasons after the current one. He's getting paid $4.9 million per season against the salary cap across the remainder of that contract, and since his deal went into effect after he turned 35, that money stays against the cap even if he retires.
It's a tenuous situation for the Flyers. Not only do they have to figure out how to replace Pronger this season, as they look to continue building their lead in the Eastern Conference standings, but they have to figure out how to work around him for the next five years as well.
That's the first big question for the Flyers. What happens right now?
How will the team replace Chris Pronger?
To be sure, you can't actually replace a guy like Pronger. He's a future Hall of Famer. He's not getting replaced by anybody. But the Flyers are a team that's sure as Hell going to shoot for the moon, as they always do. And with that comes talks that they're ready to acquire Shea Weber or Ryan Suter from the Nashville Predators.
You know, never mind the fact that they don't have the money. It can be complicated when you factor in long-term injured reserve and all of that, but on a base level, it's really simple. Pronger earns $4.9 million against the salary cap. Weber earns $7.5 million. Suter earns $3.5 million, but when you consider that the cap is calculated daily and is prorated, the Flyers don't have that total of $4.9 million freed up.
Then consider what it would take to get a guy like Suter or Weber away from Nashville via trade? It seems pretty evident that such a deal wouldn't happen. The Flyers would be decimating other parts of their lineup just to replace a hole on defense.
The more likely option is that Paul Holmgren targets some lesser defensemen on the trade market. The options are far and wide when you get to that point, so it's kind of meaningless to get into specifics, but a player at around $2 million or $3 million per season (on the high end) who can play somewhere in the middle of your defensive corps is the likely option here for the Flyers.
It's not like they don't have depth at defense as it is. Pronger was the top dog, for sure, but Kimmo Timonen is a No. 1 defenseman on most teams in the NHL. Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle are very nice pieces next in line, so really, the Flyers will be fine if they can acquire somebody that can fill in as a No. 4 defenseman. Perhaps somebody that plays a physical game and is a big body, replacing some of what Pronger brought in that sense.
But really, the Flyers have the pieces to replace Pronger as adequately as they can already on their roster. They just need to fill in the gap lower in the depth chart. Things are working well right now with call-ups Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon, but with those rookies in the lineup, Carle, Coburn and Timonen have been taxed way beyond an ideal point. Picking up another decent NHL defenseman who can chew up some minutes helps in that department substantially.
The Flyers almost definitely need to get somebody, but they don't need to replace Pronger with that pick up.
How will Pronger's prolonged absence impact the club?
Last year, Pronger's decline over the latter part of the regular season due to various injuries could be directly linked to his team's decline. He is the most important player on the team, and while they've played well without him so far this season, it's yet to be seen how the knowledge of his injury will impact them.
Maybe it's a good thing that they know his status, even though the news sucks. Having the cloud hanging over the head all season can't be a good thing when it comes to focusing, so in that sense, perhaps it's a good thing that they're not left wondering when he'll return. Pronger is out. He's not coming back this season. Move on.
A new captain?
Pronger was awarded the captaincy just prior to this season, and the question is simple: Do you appoint a new captain, given the circumstances? In line for the job would be forward Danny Briere and defenseman Timonen, who both wear the A on their sweater at present.
Claude Giroux, also out with a concussion (although likely not nearly as serious as Pronger's), and Max Talbot fill out the Flyers leadership group.
The team has gotten by most of this season without their captain, so maybe it's a case of not fixing the problem if it's not necessary. In any case, a white letter on a shirt is the least of the concerns here. The brain of Chris Pronger, followed by his career and the hockey team, in that order, are of chief importance right now.