July 7, 2009

And the big man joined the band.

I remember, as the 2009 NHL trade deadline was approaching, dreaming about the Philadelphia Flyers getting Chris Pronger.

It was just a dream, of course -- poor cap management by GM Paul Holmgren meant the Flyers had to give away Scottie Upshall for the reprehensible Danny Carcillo, just to keep super stud Claude Giroux on the roster. There was no room for a superstar like Pronger, even if he was exactly what the team needed, not in the new, salary-capped NHL.

But when the 2009 NHL Draft rolled around, the dream came true. Holmgren got the chance to acquire the former Hart Trophy winner, and he didn't hesitate to pull the trigger.

The cost was expensive: Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul and two first-round draft picks. Losing Sbisa hurt the most -- I'd be surprised if the kid doesn't mature into an All-Star defenseman, with the way he carried himself as a NHL player at age 18.

But anyone who has seen Chris Pronger play knows that the second he steps onto the ice at the Wachovia Center, we'll forget Luca Sbisa. Pronger was born to dominate the defensive end, born to throw his weight around, born to lead, born to be a Flyer. He's gone to two different teams and brought them to the Stanley Cup Finals, and he'll be asked to do the same in Philadelphia. Most hockey people will tell you that there's no better man for the job.

Signing him to a seven-year extension today was a risk, but one they had no choice but to take. They didn't trade a future star defenseman and a 25-goal scorer for a rental. Both Pronger and Holmgren wanted the former Duck to end his career in orange-and-black, a fact evident in how fast both sides agreed on this new contract.

Simply put, the Flyers have put all their chips on the table. Holmgren saw a team talented but without direction, and he acquired a champion, a leader, someone who has been the places that these Flyers want to go. If Pronger doesn't take them to the promised land, Holmgren might end up saddling himself with another aging, overpaid player (see: Briere, Daniel). If they win a Cup, we'll be too drunk on champagne to care.

More than anything, Paul Holmgren's legacy will be this trade. But I imagine even he'd tell you that if there was ever a player to hitch your wagon to, it's Christopher Robert Pronger.