By Andy Rummel
Two seasons ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins stood on the precipice and looked into the abyss. They could have remained where they were, a good team that had some very good talent. A nice, safe place to be. But they were still not a ‘great’ team. Not a team that could make it to the Finals and actually compete for the Stanley Cup.
Ray Shero, with a gentle shove from one Mario Lemieux, attempted the leap…and made it to the other side. It was a huge gamble, both real and perceived. He made a trade that gave up two very popular players in Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, a lot of potential in Angelo Esposito, and a first round draft pick for the following year to the Atlanta Thrashers. All for a rental player named Marian Hossa, a talented winger who potentially could take the Penguins to the ‘Promised Land’. For all intents and purposes, it was indeed a desperate attempt to become ‘great’. Thankfully for Penguin fans, it worked out on two accounts: success in reaching the Finals, and in gaining the invaluable experience that came along with it. The Penguins probably do not win the Cup this past year without that experience.
Could you imagine if the Hossa trade didn’t work out? Think about it for a moment: Hossa only ‘appears’ in the playoffs once in a while. Other times he is a complete ghost. The Penguins could easily been out of the playoffs quickly and the fans would have been chanting for Ray Shero’s head. Mr. Shero certainly does not make that trade unless Mario nudges him to do it. Who knows how different it would have been had they not made the trade? Maybe the Penguins still make it to the Finals. As it was, they were pretty much dominated by the Red Wings, even though Hossa played very well. Imagine how bad it would have been without Hossa…
Fast-forward two years. The Philadelphia Flyers are coming off two playoff run that were ended by a team that has become one of their most hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The rival that has the ‘pretty boy’ of the NHL, a goalie named ‘The Flower’, and a vocal fan base that reeks to the great fans of Philadelphia as ‘bandwagon’. It is all just simply too much to take.
Paul Holmgren, the General Manager of the Flyers, realized that it was the time to strike, the proverbial ‘now or never’. The Penguins are going to be a very good team for a long time to come, if not great. What happens in two years when the Penguins young talent in the minors makes it to the NHL? When Malkin and Crosby and everyone else are better and stronger than ever? Will anyone have a chance? Whether or not the Penguins do get better remains to be seen, but it is a very real possibility that the Penguins could have a choke hold on the Eastern Conference for a long time to come.
"I made it sort of clear I would like to get a hammer, a guy who makes life miserable for the other team. This is one of those guys. I think we’ve made some strides in terms of revamping our defense over the last few years. You put Chris in our mix, and it makes our defense a good group." -- Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on Chris Pronger
The leap was a very expensive one, even more than for the Penguins two years earlier. To get the 35-year-old Pronger, Paul Holmgren had to start by giving up Jeoffrey Lupul, a 25-year-old (25 goals last year) to the Anaheim Ducks. Also moved was Defenseman Luca Sbisa, who at age 19, has better upside than Lupul and could alone be the asset that makes this deal one sided for the Ducks. Add in two more first round draft picks (this years 21st and next years 1st rounder), and it is hard to imagine that the Ducks didn’t get the better end of this deal. And remember, Pronger is only signed for this upcoming year and then he is a free agent.
The thought of the Flyers with Chris Pronger is discouraging. He is tough and dirty and rugged, everything that most any hockey fan loves from an objective sense. The type of player that every fan wants on their team, but loathes him when he is on another. The Flyers got much better on defense in the short term. But in the long term, especially if Pronger signs somewhere else after the upcoming season, the trade may be regrettable.
The Flyers have made two huge gambles. They went after Chris Pronger, and spent a ton of assets to get him. And because his salary is so large, the Flyer’s #1 goalie is now the enigmatic and volatile Ray Emery. Another huge gamble. Even bigger risk than the Pronger deal in my opinion. The ending argument is very simple: For this trade to be a success, the Flyers have to make it to the Finals this year. In the very least, they have to pound the Penguins to submission in the playoffs. Otherwise, the trade will be an abject failure.
So ultimately, no matter which way you look at it, the Flyers made bold moves that smack of desperation. And while it may be very difficult this upcoming year to deal with Pronger on the Flyer blue-line, every Penguin fan should have a huge smile on the inside: the Pittsburgh Penguins have not only driven the Flyer fans up a wall, but apparently the Flyer’s management as well.
You can almost smell the desperation of the Philadelphia Flyers 300 miles away.