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Chris Pronger’s contract, health could be a big problem for the Philadelphia Flyers

May 8, 2011, 8:00 AM EDT

Edmonton Oilers v Philadelphia Flyers Getty Images

Amid all the negativity about that messy second round sweep and all of the goaltending headaches, the Philadelphia Flyers do have some good things going for them. Most of the positives probably reside in their forward ranks, as the team seems to discover a new gem every year.

(Last year, it was Danny Briere’s rebirth plus the rise of Claude Giroux and Ville Leino. This time around, James van Riemsdyk‘s power forward game seemed to jump a few levels once the playoffs kicked in.)

The easy thing to do is kick the team around for the way they handle their goalies and there’s little doubt that they made some big mistakes this time around. Yet that simple scapegoating obscures a bigger, scarier problem: the Flyers defense was lousy at times.

Whether it be the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers or Anaheim Ducks, defenses that lost Chris Pronger‘s presence fell apart in the following season(s). So, in a way, it seems like the Flyers received a taste of the “Curse of Pronger” once injuries kept him from being a force and often kept him off the ice entirely.

That being said, the worst part about Pronger’s situation is that he won’t go away.

The numbers behind Pronger’s could-be albatross contract

Actually, by he, I mean his salary cap hit. If the “35+ rule” stays intact through the next Collective Bargaining Agreement or two, the Flyers could be stuck with Pronger’s $4.92 million salary cap hit through the 2016-17 season. Under the 35+ provision, the Flyers would be forced to deal with that damage even if he retires, which is likely considering the fact that he would be 42 on October 10, 2016. (In other words, he’d be 42 around the beginning of the 16-17 campaign.)

To really drive the point home about that contract, let’s take a look at the year-by-year breakdown. Again, keep in mind that his cap hit remains the same at $4.92 million. His already-completed 2010-11 season salary was $7.6 million, by the way. (Note: I know showing his age is kind of redundant, but it really emphasizes how bad the situation could be.)

2011-12 salary: $7.6M; Age: 37
12-13 salary: $7.2M; Age: 38
13-14 salary: $7M; Age: 39
14-15 salary: $4M; Age: 40
15-16 salary: $525K; Age: 41
16-17 salary: $525K; Age: 42

As you can see, the “loophole” years were supposed to come in the last three seasons. They still will be from a budgetary standpoint, but now the Flyers must bite their nails and hope that Pronger isn’t totally worthless in his twilight years.

So far, not so good

The 2010-11 season obviously wasn’t a great first audition. He only played in 50 regular season games and three out of 11 playoff contests while averaging an uncharacteristically low 22:30 of ice time per game. A typical Pronger workload ranged between 25 and 27 minutes in previous regular seasons.

Now, one bad year doesn’t guarantee that he’s totally done. He still has a miles-wide mean streak and an underrated understanding of the position. Those two things aren’t likely to wane in the coming years. He just needs to take the proper time to recover from knee (early season) and hand (late season/playoffs) problems that made this past season so incomplete.

Why he might not age like Nicklas Lidstrom

It’s tough to imagine him aging like Nicklas Lidstrom, the hockey equivalent to a quarterback whose quick decision making skills keeps him from taking career-shortening hits. Pronger is more like a middle linebacker: a tough as nails field general who often leads the charge. That fearsome quality is part of what made him possibly the biggest playoff difference maker at the defenseman position since the lockout, but it also might be his undoing.

The Flyers have plenty of interesting questions to answer during this summer, but Pronger’s health could end up being a make-or-break during the next six seasons.

  1. sknut - May 8, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    The Flyers can only hope that the cap keeps going up. Its a risk for these long term contracts but teams tend to think more short sighted and less about long term implications.

  2. psujay - May 8, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    So if they trade him to a team like Phoenix or Nashville (teams trying to get TO the salary floor, not trying to get below the cap) and then he retires the next day, those teams gets free cap $$ while only spending $525k right? Sounds like it could be an asset as long as he plays ball.

    • James O'Brien - May 8, 2011 at 11:37 AM

      True, there are some interesting trade-related options. That might be a good way out for the Flyers, indeed.

      • psujay - May 8, 2011 at 1:21 PM

        One would think the Union would love this, as the Flyers have shown the WILL spend any money they have (and then some, if possible). Therefore, moving a contract like this around will give the Flyers the opportunity to spend more money on players rather than have a deep pocketed franchise unable to spend $5M per year.

    • whatagreatfootballmind - May 8, 2011 at 6:10 PM

      In theory that is a great idea. However, you would have to ask yourself (or the team) why would they take a 37 year old defensemen who’s under contract for 6 more years at 4.92 million a year cap hit? No team, would ever take that. GM’s who sign these players to long term contracts who don’t live up not only ruin the team currently, but also in the future. Just ask the Minnesota Wild who are STILL paying Mark Parrish’s ridicilous contract. Parrish’s contract cost Doug Risebrough his job and the Wild have no room with the cap and are still paying 1.5 million a year for him so it’s tough to sign a free agent or swing a trade.

      Even if the Flyers (or whoever trades for him) buys him out, that team is stuck 2.46 million a year through the 2022-23 season. Again, no team will do that either! Team like the Islanders and Blackhawks will run into this same exact problem when DiPietro and Hossa deals are in their later years.

      • psujay - May 8, 2011 at 6:45 PM

        You’re missing the point, a team like Phoenix who struggles to get to the cap floor, and therefore cares far more about real dollars than cap dollars, would love to pick up that contract in exchange for a throwaway contract (think a guy with an NHL contract who is stuck in the minors because the team made a mistake). A deep pocketed team wouldn’t care about the lost money, while the poorer team suddenly has $5M of cap hit for $525k of actual dollars. You don’t think the ownership of such a team would love that? You’re sorely mistaken.

        No team that can field 95%+ of the salary cap would do that, but any team who is financially struggling would love to pay below the floor but have a cap number above the floor. It’s just good business.

  3. tommytd - May 8, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    Chrissy Pronger is a MORON.

  4. whatagreatfootballmind - May 9, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    Then why trade for a player who has a 4.92 million contract who is 37 when you can sign a free agent who is younger?

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