VOORHEES, N.J. – Chris Pronger expects to help Philadelphia win a Stanley Cup this season and beyond.
Working out a contract extension with Philadelphia before the potential free agent plays his first game with the Flyers is already a priority for the former NHL MVP.
“I’d love to finish my career here,” Pronger said.
The Flyers are putting their win-now hopes in the hands of an aging and antagonistic defenceman acquired in a blockbuster, draft-day trade with the Anaheim Ducks.
The Flyers surrendered a pair of first-round picks and a promising prospect as part of the deal, and want their investment in Pronger to last more than a season. The 34-year-old Pronger, who had 11 goals and 37 assists last season, will earn US$6.25 million next season. He is hopeful a new deal can be reached before the start of next season.
Pronger is set to roam the ice as the blue line bully the Flyers sorely needed if they expect to catch up with Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers traded for Pronger so he can deal the punishing hits that puts teams on notice as they try and attack the net.
“I think he plays with an attitude. That’s what you love about him,” Flyers coach John Stevens said.
Pronger, introduced by the Flyers at their practice facility on Monday, watched from a distance the last two seasons as Pittsburgh’s run of consecutive Stanley Cup finals included a steamroll through Philadelphia.
Now the Eastern Conference post-season will run through the six-foot-six, 220-pound intimidating force with a history of hostile play and a career littered with suspensions – which sounds like a perfect fit with the Flyers.
“The style that they play kind of fits the way that I play,” Pronger said.
Pronger, who also played for Hartford, St. Louis, Edmonton and Anaheim over a 15-year career, was the third player ever in 2007 to be suspended twice in one playoff year and the third to sit out a Stanley Cup finals game for an act committed in the championship round. He was banished for eight regular-season games for stomping on the leg of Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler in 2008, and has other suspensions for various infractions like cross-checking, high-sticking and slashing.
“He’s gotten in trouble with some suspensions, but it’s always with the intention of playing the game the right way,” Stevens said.
Pronger and prospect Ryan Dingle went from the Anaheim Ducks to Philadelphia for forward Joffrey Lupul, defenceman Luca Sbisa, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010 and a conditional third-round pick in 2010 or 2011.
“It’s a pretty bold move, but it’s a move that had to be made,” Stevens said.
Pronger instantly brings a lively personality and leadership to a locker-room that needed an infusion of both. He cracked one-liners and poked fun at his punishments, all while promising his best to help the Flyers win the Cup.
Philadelphia hasn’t hoisted the Cup since winning the second of back-to-back titles in 1975.
So many major acquisitions – like Jeremy Roenick and Peter Forsberg – have arrived in Philly with the promise of being the missing piece to end the championship drought. Each fell short like the player before him.
“I think I’m probably a big piece,” Pronger said. “I don’t think I’m the key piece. The key piece is the group coming together at the right time and having that chemistry.”
The Flyers, eliminated by the Penguins in the first round, signed former Stanley Cup goalie Ray Emery, backup goalie Brian Boucher and forward Ian Laperriere. The Flyers lost 52 goals and 97 points when they traded Lupul and did not re-sign power-play standout Mike Knuble, but are expecting Claude Giroux and a healthy Danny Briere to make up those points.
Adding Pronger to the mix makes the Flyers contenders.
“Of course it’s closer, but by the same token, it’s unfair to put that kind of burden on Chris as the key piece or anything of that nature,” team chairman Ed Snider said.
Preliminary talks on a contract extension have started between Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren and Pronger’s agent, Pat Morris. Morris said Pronger has never gone into a season with only one year left on a deal.
They’ll get a player who wants to play into his 40s and insists he doesn’t feel his age.
“Twenty-four. Call me Jack Bauer,” he said.
The Stanley Cup clock starts ticking on Pronger and the Flyers now.