First, we all wish Chris Pronger a quick and complete recovery. Eye injuries are scary and that is true even if he was not a hockey player. Pronger's personal health is of the utmost concern.
Second, the Flyers have a problem. You can't replace Chris Pronger, but that's just what the Flyers will have to do.
Immediately, one has to imagine the Flyers will simply bump Andrej Meszaros up to the top-4 and rely heavily on him, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn to carry the defensive load with help from Andreas Lilja and Matt Walker. That's simple.
The problem is that the Flyers will not have seven healthy defenseman. Obviously, the Flyers could choose to go with only six defensemen and hope nobody gets hurt in the meantime. That's certainly a possibility with this team.
But the team goes on the road to Montreal on Wednesday before returning home for two games in Philadelphia on Thursday and Saturday. That's one back-to-back game this week with another next week. If someone gets sick or hurt, the Flyers would have a short window to analyze the injury, decide who to call up, get them to the game, and have them ready to play.
No big deal, right? Call up Erik Gustafsson or Blake Kessel or Kevin Marshall and your problem is solved.
Except the Flyers can't, since they only have $1,159 in daily spending available (or a $214,415 yearly cap hit) under their current Long-Term Injured Reserve exemption according to CapGeek. This is a problem.
But the Flyers do have options.
Disclaimer: the $1,159 daily cap space is far from a guarantee, however, since the contract situation surrounding Brayden Schenn is still a little unclear. Based on how much CapGeek has him costing the Flyers so far this season, they calculate him at a roughly $1.574 million cap hit. Other outlets report $1.705 million while still others report $1.690 million. In any event, the numbers used here are, at worst, giving the Flyers more space, since they show Schenn's cap hit lower than any of the other popularly reported figures.
The team has options so that they aren't carrying only six healthy defensemen for the foreseeable future. They are:
1. Place Pronger on Long-Term Injured Reserve
This is obviously the easiest solution, as Pronger's $4.9+ million cap hit would become available for the Flyers to use in replacing him. The only condition is that Pronger would then be required to miss ten games and twenty-four days, meaning he could return November 19th in Winnipeg at the absolute earliest.
This may be the preferred option, since most here are more than happy to rest Pronger for the playoffs, when he's most needed. It would also allow the team to call up any Phantoms defensemen they choose.
2. Waive Jody Shelley, replace him with Zac Rinaldo and Oliver Lauridsen
If the Flyers were to look for cap space from within, rather than force Pronger out of the lineup for close to a month, their options would be limited. Any forward who is sent down for cap space must be replaced, lest the Flyers run into the same problem they are attempting to fix: the lack of a healthy scratch.
Swapping Shelley for Zac Rinaldo makes sense since Rinaldo already has five games played this season, he is extremely inexpensive, and he can fill a similar role as Shelley.
But the move would only open up enough space for a defenseman with a $769,970 yearly cap hit, of which the Flyers only have four in the AHL. One of those defensemen is Dan Jancevski, career AHLer. Another is Oskars Bartulis, subject to re-entry waivers for only $300k next year and roughly $265k this year.
That leaves Lauridsen and Tyler Hostetter as the only realistic options under this scenario. It doesn't have to be Lauridsen, but he's tall and people like him.
I don't think this option is preferred at all - by anyone really - unless the Flyers know Pronger will only miss a couple of games. While we all hope that to be the case, it's not something anyone should count on.
3. Return Sean Couturier to Juniors, Recall Whomever You Want
Couturier costs $7,432 per day against the cap, more than any defenseman currently on the Phantoms. If he is returned to Juniors, the Flyers can recall Gustafsson, Kessel, Bourdon, Marshall, or anyone else you so desire, while still leaving enough room to recall Zac Rinaldo, Tom Sestito, Eric Wellwood, or Jon Kalinski to take his spot.
I've already explained why returning Couturier to Drummondville is a good idea, but this current predicament the Flyers find themselves in only further cements my opinion. Send him back, get the necessary cap space, have your pick of temporary replacements, and maintain flexibility for when Pronger is ready return. Problem solved.
This list is not exhaustive as the Flyers could obviously make a trade or waive other players, but these are the three easiest moves.