Almost all Flyers fans agreed during the off-season that Chris Pronger would make the next great captain of the franchise after Mike Richards was sent to the Kings. Before the season started, the Flyers named Chris Pronger the 18th captain in team history.
Within the past calendar year, the Flyers have had two captains, Mike Richards and Chris Pronger. Last season, Sam Donnellon of the Philadelphia Daily News suggested Mike Richards should be stripped of the captaincy because he just was not leading the team the right way on and off the ice, in his opinion. Whether it be Richards’ post-game interviews or “Dry Island,” Richards didn’t become the captain the Flyers envisioned when they drafted him. Many compared him to Bobby Clarke, the best Flyers player in team history. With Richards out, Pronger was the natural replacement.
I had one worry about Pronger coming off of last season, and that was his health. He played in only 50 games last season, the least amount of games he’s played in a season in his career. In July 2010 began a string of six consecutive surgeries for Pronger. Knee, wrist, and back problems have hampered him in the last year. That’s the very reason why giving him the captaincy was a bold, yet scary move. Pronger still has five years left on his 7-year, $34.5 million deal, a number that probably will only amount to one or two more years.
I don’t think anyone would argue Pronger isn’t a better captain than Mike Richards. He clearly has an affect on this team, but the team plays different without him on the ice. And with Pronger missing game after game, it could have a mental effect on the players. Alternate captains don’t hold as much weight as the regular captain on this team, so Pronger’s absence paints an even bleaker picture. Would a captain who hasn’t missed over 40 games the last two seasons combined be better for this team than one who might not even be able to stay healthy the rest of his career?
At least when Mike Richards was the captain, the team could always count on him being there and playing. He rarely missed a game due to an injury. The one thing that differs between the two captains is that Pronger never quits on the ice. Sure, he’s not nearly as fast as some of today’s top young stars in the NHL, but we don’t see quitting on the ice from this team like we saw last year, or the year before, or the year before. When I saw Mike Richards quit on the ice during a 4-0 loss against the Panthers a couple of years ago by skating back to the bench as the puck and Panthers players skated past him, I had finally realized Mike Richards wasn’t the guy who would lead this team to the promised land. Sure, I would’ve been proven a fool had they defeated the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, but they didn’t.
It’s hard to say who would make a better captain on this team than Chris Pronger. Kimmo Timonen has been an iron man that hasn’t missed many games since his acquisition in 2007. Danny Briere has been a co-captain before, but never has been the main guy on a team. Jaromir Jagr has been a captain in the past, but he hardly would make a good captain for this team at this point. He’s basically here for one year trying to prove he can still play in the NHL. But the argument could be made that this team needs a captain that’s actually going to be around on and off the ice. I’m not so sure Pronger can come back, for a third time this calendar year, and become a healthy force that will lead this team into the playoffs.
But in hindsight, nobody can predict injuries. Pronger’s season last year preceded a season in which he played all 82 games. The season before that with the Ducks, he also played all 82 games. So is Pronger breaking down slowly? Flyers GM Paul Holmgren doesn’t think so:
“I think any time a player has surgery, you’re concerned, whether it’s an older player like Chris or a younger player,” Holmgren said. “But I think he takes good care of himself with proper rehabilitation and conditioning. The only thing you can go by is what the doctor tells you. This is really more a maintenance procedure than anything else.
“The structure of his knee is just fine. He has good cartilege on both sides of his knee. I think he has a lot of miles left in his body.”
That hasn’t stopped the trade rumors that have been swirling around the Flyers since the announcement was made that Pronger would be sidelined four more weeks. Trade discussions have mostly surrounded the Ducks’ Bobby Ryan, in which the Flyers seem to be a legitimate player for. But they need blue line help and Ryan is a forward. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out down the road.
For full disclosure, I think Pronger is the best fit to captain this team right now. And with the Flyers making the change just months ago, I think it would be premature to take the captaincy away from him this early. But if he can’t stay healthy, they won’t have a choice.