Chris Pronger may not wear the “C” in Philadelphia but, make no mistake, he is the Flyers’ on-ice leader. He carries himself like it. He talks like it. He acts like it on the ice. And he can be downright nasty. That’s why Peter Laviolette gave him over 32 minutes of ice in Game One. Watch Pronger closely in this Stanley Cup Final. You are watching a future Hall-of-Famer.
Before Game One, the media made plenty of the potential front-of-the-net battle between Pronger and Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien. Old Dustin was practically invisible on Friday.
Is Pronger a smart a**? Of course he is. Is he a cocky son-of-a-gun? You bet. Is he smug? The Broad-Street-smuggest. Is he a perfect fit on the Flyers’ blueline? He sure is. He does his talking on the ice. He knows Dustin Byfuglien sees it. And Pronger will be grinning a lot during the game. And, if he gets Byfuglien thinking, Pronger has done his job.
Pronger hasn’t had a smooth-as-silk run in the NHL. His career got off to an extremely rocky start in Hartford, after the Whalers drafted him second overall, from the Peterborough Petes, in 1993. At 6’ 6”, 220 lbs, Pronger was the perfect specimen to lead the Whalers out of their perennial NHL obscurity. But, when he got to Hartford, there were off-ice problems. Lots of them. Pronger lasted just two seasons in Hartford (the second of which was the shortened 1994-95 season) before being traded to St. Louis. The GM for the Blues was Mike Keenan.
Keenan takes full credit for making Pronger the player he is today. And Keenan deserves it. He told Pronger the off-ice garbage needed to end. Now. Eventually, Pronger became captain in St. Louis from 1997-2003. In 2000, Pronger won both the Norris and Hart Trophies. But he couldn’t get the Blues to the ultimate prize.
In Edmonton, Pronger did lead the Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final – where they lost to Carolina in seven games. But, after that season, for reasons still not completely known, Pronger asked for a trade out of Edmonton. General manager Kevin Lowe dealt him to Brian Burke in Anaheim. And the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks became Stanley Cup champions. A year later, he was dealt to Philadelphia where, shortly after arriving, Pronger signed a seven-year deal.
Pronger is, by far, the Flyers’ best player on the blueline. But that won’t be enough in this series. He can pound on Dustin Byfuglien all he wants, but he needs to do more, different things too. If the Flyers are going to pull off a series upset, Pronger must lead the boys. He must instill incredible confidence in whichever netminder is playing behind him. He must show the other defencemen how it’s done.
If he can do all those things, and lead the Flyers to the Cup, he’d be a lock for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Watch Chris Pronger closely tonight and in the rest of the series. Watch him try to pound Byfuglien into submission. Remember, you’re watching a Hall-of-Famer.