Frank Seravalli: Pronger pact a monkey wrench for Flyers

Replacing Chris Pronger on the ice, in the locker room and in the salary cap will be tricky.
Replacing Chris Pronger on the ice, in the locker room and in the salary cap will be tricky. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: January 16, 2012

Chris Pronger's sullen words on Saturday were not nearly as revealing as his silence over the past 6 weeks.

Pronger, 37, issued a brief statement through the Flyers, his first public peep since two Pittsburgh-area concussion specialists shockingly ruled on Dec. 15 that he would miss the balance of the regular season and playoffs.

"It is very, very tough right now," Pronger said. "I don't feel well and it hurts so much to not be playing."

Pronger, named the 18th captain in Flyers history in September, has steered clear of the team's practice facility. His teammates - and the Flyers' public relations department - say that he has rarely kept in touch, often not responding to messages.

Seemingly, the only person who has maintained regular contact with Pronger is Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who said in a report last week that the two speak once or twice a week.

Last week, Pronger's nameplate disappeared from the Flyers locker room for the first time since he was traded to here from Anaheim in June 2009. His stall has since been occupied by rookie Harry Zolnierczyk. The Flyers have yet to comment on the status of his captaincy.

While the Flyers grapple with how to replace Pronger in the locker room - both in the near and long terms - the bigger question is how they will fill his void on the ice.

There are 42 days until the Feb. 27 trade deadline. And no player throws a wrench into the Flyers' plans like Pronger, who is in the second year of a 7-year, $34.45-million deal that carries a $4.92 million salary cap hit until 2017, when he will be 42 years old.

Since Pronger signed his 7-year extension when he was 35, the Flyers are saddled with his salary cap hit for the duration of the contract, whether or not he is still playing. The rule, part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, was put into place to prevent teams from circumventing the salary cap by signing aging stars to long-term deals for huge sums of money (to lower the annual cap hit) only to retire early in the deal.

Back in December, Holmgren said it was a "fair question" to ask if Pronger's career was in jeopardy. Now, more than ever, the Flyers are banking on the fact that Pronger will not hang up his skates.

Currently, Pronger is on the long-term injured reserve, which gives the Flyers a cushion equal to his $4.92-million salary-cap hit to replace him with another player. He could theoretically remain on the long-term injured reserve, should he not be deemed physically fit to play, for the duration of his contract.

That's what the Flyers have done with Ian Laperriere for each of the last two seasons. His contract expires at the end of this year.

Pronger's situation is different. What if Pronger is planning to take this season off, to let his brain heal, before trying to resume his Hall-of-Fame career? The Flyers have operated so close to the salary cap ceiling - $64.3 million this year - that they could not afford to add an expensive defenseman at the deadline without first trading salary.

As the trade deadline approaches, the Flyers are in the process of determining exactly how much salary they can take on. But if it was hard to predict in December how Pronger will feel in May, it's more daunting to guesstimate now how Pronger will react to physical exertion in September, should he even want to risk his future day-to-day health.

As it stands, the Flyers have north of $3 million in cushion to add for the rest of this season. That's not the problem. It's predicting the future. Next year, the Flyers already have $21.3 million committed to Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Andreas Lilja and Erik Gustafsson. Matt Carle ($3.437 million) is the Flyers' only unrestricted free agent.

The easiest solution would be for the Flyers to add an affordable rental-type player, like Carolina's Tim Gleason. But in order to bring in a star, like Nashville's Ryan Suter - who is reportedly No. 1 on the Flyers' wish list - the Flyers would need to deal a quality piece from their lineup without the guarantee that Suter would be in their lineup next October.

It would be even more daring to trade for someone like Toronto's Luke Schenn, who has 4 years and $14.4 million remaining on his contract, without knowing the future salary-cap implications of Pronger and Carle (if any) moving forward.

The only thing that would make the Flyers' deadline decisions easier is an already assured, one-time contract amnesty that could very well come as the result of the upcoming CBA negotiations, which are set to start sometime around the Jan. 26-30 All-Star break.

Even then, it isn't a guarantee that Pronger's deal would be the one needing amnesty.

'BRYZ' vs. 'BOB'

Who will Peter Laviolette start tomorrow night against Minnesota? After starting three games in 4 days last week, Ilya Bryzgalov gave way to Sergei Bobrovsky for consecutive games on Tuesday and Thursday before returning to the net for Saturday's loss in Nashville.

With his two wins last week, Bobrovsky improved to 10-3-1. Bryzgalov fell to 16-10-3 on Saturday.

One trend rarely mentioned is that the bulk of Bobrovsky's 14 starts have come against opponents with poor records:

Oct. 18 at Ottawa: 1-4-0 (15th place)

Oct 24 vs. Toronto: 5-1-0 (2nd)

Oct. 27 vs. Winnipeg: 2-5-1 (15th)

Nov. 3 vs. New Jersey: 4-5-1 (12th)

Nov. 14 at Carolina: 6-8-3 (13th)

Nov. 19 at Winnipeg: 7-9-3 (13th)

Nov. 25 vs. Montreal: 10-9-3 (10th)

Nov. 26 at N.Y. Rangers: 11-5-3 (6th)

Dec. 15 at Montreal: 13-11-7 (9th)

Dec. 21 at Dallas: 19-12-1 (3rd West)

Dec. 29 at Pittsburgh: 21-11-4 (5th)

Jan. 2 vs. N.Y. Rangers: 23-9-4 (1st)

Jan. 10 at Carolina: 14-22-7 (14th)

Jan. 12 at N.Y. Islanders: 15-19-6 (14th)

Average standing at time of start: 9.42

Bryzgalov, on the other hand, has faced a tougher road, especially lately. In five of his last six starts, Bryzgalov has faced Chicago (top offense in NHL, first place overall), the Rangers (first in East), and Ottawa (fifth in East) in back-to-back games.

Bryzgalov is 16-10-3 with a 3.07 GAA, .891 save percentage.

Bobrovsky is 10-3-1, 2.42 GAA, .921.


1: Regulation losses in Nashville, Tenn., in Flyers history (2-1-2-2). The Flyers fell, 4-2, against the Predators behind Pekka Rinne's 36 saves Saturday. Interestingly, the Flyers have not won in Nashville since March 19, 2000.

3: Serious injuries that the Flyers have announced in Nashville in just seven trips there, including Eric Lindros' collapsed lung on April 1, 1999, Michael Leighton's severe high-ankle sprain on March 16, 2010 that kept him out for more than 2 months, and James van Riemsdyk's concussion on Saturday.

6-of-7: Games in which the Flyers have posted 35 or more shots. Their 22-shot night last Thursday on Long Island was the exception. Prior to this streak, the Flyers last posted more than 35 shots in a game on Dec. 2 in Anaheim.

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