The Pronger Trade -- 5 Talking Points

The Flyers' blockbuster trade with the Anaheim Ducks (Chris Pronger and Ryan Dingle for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and a slew of draft picks) quickly became the biggest league-wide storyline at the 2009 NHL Draft.  Though the sun has not yet risen on this deal, the buzz among the media, fans, and BSH readers is already deafening.  The trade was the lead story on ESPN.com last night, especially impressive given the scarcity of NHL headlines on the site during the off-season (not to mention during the regular season and the playoffs).

Generalizing substantially, these seem to be the five main talking points when it comes to evaluating the trade from the Flyers perspective:

  1. Pronger Has Experience Leading a Team to the Cup - Before adding Chris Pronger, the Flyers boasted only one player with a Stanley Cup ring, approximately nineteen fewer cup winners than currently play for the Penguins (ugh).  That player is Mike Knuble, who won his Cup eleven years ago for a Detroit team to which he only contributed seven goals.  So it can be pretty safely said that experience had been lacking.  However, with experience, of course, comes age.  Pronger has had injury problems in the past, and is without a doubt past his peak playing days.  The obvious precedent in this part of the debate is Derian Hatcher, who also was brought to the Flyers in recent years for his physical defense and leadership experience in winning a Cup.  Hatcher didn't bring the Flyers a Cup in his three years of playing "old NHL" style defense for the Orange and Black.  Pronger has won a Stanley Cup in the "new NHL" era, so the comparison isn't perfect, but it's still one worth considering.
  2. Pronger Plays "Flyers Hockey" He said it himself.  Pronger plays so-called "Flyers Hockey," which would theoretically make him a good fit for the Flyers.  "Flyers Hockey," while naturally my favorite kind of hockey, often serves as a euphemism for "Dirty Hockey." Remember also that Daniel Carcillo too was lauded for playing "Flyers Hockey," though playing his style of Flyers Hockey for the actual Flyers resulted in his not scoring a goal in his first twenty-four games with the club.  One more hard-hitter with a reputation for the occasional cheap shot could lead to even more penalties and suspensions for the Broad Street Bullies, especially considering that in Lupul and Sbisa the Flyers dealt away two of their least physical players.
  3. Letting Lupul Leave - In losing Joffrey Lupul, the Flyers' lost their only player whose last name is a palindrome.  They also lost  without a player who tallied twenty-five goals and twenty-five assists last season, his fifty total points putting him at fifth-best on the team.  He was also a very popular guy in the locker room who brought with him a surprising amount of modeling experience.  But with all those pluses came some definite disappointments.  Lupul had always been considered something of an underachiever with the Flyers, despite a goal-production that stayed near his linemates'.  At best he was labeled as streaky, at worst a player who didn't bring any energy or commitment far too often.  He tallied only one goal and one assist in the playoffs last season, though when it comes to Lupul's playoff goal scoring his Game 7 OT winner vs. the Caps forever gets him a pass.  That one goal likely was the reason for his enormous new contract in the summer of 2008, a contract which made him too pricy to keep around through the summer of 2009.
  4. Selling the Future - Luca Sbisa's departure isn't all that surprising, considering that management never seemed to forgive him for oversleeping back in December.  The 19-year old Sbisa generally impressed with his play over 39 games during the regular season, but also appeared to be a raw talent in need of a lengthy polishing period.  Sbisa scored zero goals for the Flyers, and was a -6 on the season.  He was also quietly one of the team's least disciplined players, averaging one minor penalty for every 38 minutes of playing time, a rate that compares especially unfavorably with his fellow defensemen (Matt Carle, for example, averaged one minor penalty for every 154 minutes of playing time). While Sbisa is largely a known quantity at this early stage of his career, what would have emerged from the draft picks the Flyers ditched yesterday is a complete unknown.  Draft picks late in the first round may seem like abstract, amorphous assets, but in more concrete terms they can turn into players like Simon Gagne (#22, 1998), Mike Richards (#24, 2003), and Claude Giroux (#22, 2006). Or they can turn into Steve Downie (#29, 2005).  We'll never know who the Flyers would have been able to get with the 21st pick in the first round they traded, nor with the other two picks they sent to Anaheim.  Paired with the second round pick that got sent to Phoenix at the trade deadline, the wholesale dumping of draft picks is a trend that could cause some concern.
  5. Action Over Inaction - In 2008, the Flyers were knocked out of the playoffs by the Penguins in five games and made relatively few off-season moves.  In 2009, the Flyers were knocked out of the playoffs by the Penguins in six games and have already made huge waves by before free agency even begins by acquiring Chris Pronger and Ray Emery.  Whether you agree with the trade or not, the lack of complacency is apparent.  The dissatisfaction Paul Holmgren and the rest of the Flyers staff have with last season's result is obvious, despite the fact that the team was a three goal cushion away from pushing the eventual champions to a Game 7. Some may call the reaction it reassuring urgency and commitment to improving, while others may see it as hasty scrambling that reeks of desperation.  Or perhaps both.

There's a lot to digest, so chew thoroughly.  Once you've done that, only one question remains: Do you like this trade?

(Joffrey Lupul, for his part, is now much closer to his friends on the cast of Sober House, so I'm expecting his vote to go emphatically in the "Yes" column.)

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