Wednesday night, Lauren Pronger was at the Flyers Wives Fashion show talking about Chris, who was not able to make it because he was having a bad day. For those who have not seen the interview you can see it here http://bleacherreport.com/tb/bdpCn. Basically the news on Pronger is just as bad as everyone is lead to believe by the fact that Pronger is out for the season. Pronger has had good days and bad days, but apparently has not had two or three good days in a row, which of course is not good. Pronger's condition has been compared to Keith Primeau's problems that still affect him six years later. Long story short Chris Pronger is not doing well at all and if he isn't well enough to go to a fashion show, he is a very long way away from playing and the way things sound, he may not play another game in the NHL.
So the question becomes, what are the Flyers to do with Pronger? For those who don't know, Pronger has 5 years left on a 7 year, 34.45 million dollar contract, and it is a 35+ contract, which means his salary stays on the cap for the full duration if he indeed retires. With the type of contract he has, seemingly the only way to get his cap hit off our books is to go over the cap every offseason (legal, see: Buffalo Sabres), since the Flyers love being pressed against the cap, and then Immediately putting him on the LTIR as the season starts, to free the cap space. This is a very tough prospect not only for the Flyers but for Pronger as well, who will, if he can't play anymore, end up in hockey purgatory, not retired, but can't play. Even trying to stash him in the minors won't work, as that will only lessen his cap hit by 100,000.
So now the question is just about answered, will the Flyers acquire a top defenseman at the NHL Trade deadline. It seems that the news that Pronger is not doing well at all could twist Paul Holmgrens arm in trading for a defenseman at the deadline. Pronger's absence puts a gaping hole in the defense, and the search at the deadline may not be for just depth, but for a new top pair defenseman. So the new question is, what are the Flyers options as we approach the deadline.
I feel I have to start with Shea Weber, dream on, The Nashville Predators would be really dumb to trade Shea this Trade Deadline, he's an Restricted Free Agent, so there's absolutely no way hes not a Predator next season. That won't happen, let's move on to real options. In the same place, The Predators have Ryan Suter, star defenseman who will be a UFA at the end of the season, here we have some real possibility. Though Nashville is in a playoff hunt right now and will likely make the playoffs, I feel like Suter could be had if Nashville is given the offensive firepower they need. In the Flyers' case, this would likely mean giving up the likes of Jake Voracek plus draft picks or a healthy James Van Riemsdyk, which could happen, but may not be enough to pry a stud defenseman like Suter from Nashville.
One of the biggest rumors out there is Tim Gleason of the Carolina Hurricans being shipped to the Flyers. Gleason is a solid defenseman but not really a solution to the Pronger problem, as he would only serve as a slight upgrade to Eric Gustafsson as the Flyers 5th or 6th defenseman. Solid option if Holmgren is confident that Pronger will return in the future, but if you're like me and you doubt Pronger will return to the NHL, you would like a defenseman that you can keep around for a while.
The Flyers have also shown interest in Ducks defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky and Francois Beauchemin. Both men are over 30, where they would be better options than Gleason, neither really solve the Pronger problem.
Enter one of the hottest rumors of the past few weeks, Luke Schenn of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before word came out of JVR's concussion, rumors had him being sent to Toronto for the elder Schenn. Schenns welcome may have run out in Toronto but he is still a stellar defenseman and is only 22 years old. A JVR for Schenn trade would be a fairly good move for the Flyers, despite the bad stigma that will come to the Flyers after dealing a third player after giving them a long extension. Schenn has 5 years on his contract at an amazing 3.6 million cap hit, making this an optimal move for the Flyers to have a top pair caliber defenseman at a manageable cap number.
The final defenseman I'll go through that the Flyers have interest in is also the most intriguing, LA Kings D Jack Johnson. The Kings are looking for top six forward talent, so JVR and Voracek could possibly interest them, would it be enough? JVR definitely has enough value in the league that the Kings could go with it. Johnson is another example of a top level defenseman who may have fallen out of favor on their team but are still borderline elite, especially with his performance in the last Olympics for the US hockey team. Johnson is at the start of a 7 year 30.5 million dollar contract, which for his age (25) and his level of skill (top pair) is great value, by comparison Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn have very similar cap hits to Johnson.
The long and short of it is, Paul Holmgren and the Flyers have a decision to make this deadline. That decision is whether to move on from Chris Pronger or to hope that he will be able to return next year or in the future. If he believes the latter, then a defenseman like Gleason, Visnovsky, and Beauchemin could come to Philly, but if he wants to look long term, defensemen like Schenn, Suter, and Johnson could be had. All indications show that the Flyers will likely acquire a defenseman this deadline, but who and what the plan is remains to be seen. Needless to say, this is one of the most intriguing and important trade deadlines the Flyers have had in years.