Can Pronger-era Flyers reduce penalties? Yes, Stevens says

    The Flyers still think they are being penalized, literally, for the sins of their ancestors, a.k.a. the Broad Street Bulllies.
     Some say it’s no coincidence that the Flyers led the NHL with an average of 17.5 penalty minutes per game last season. The referees, they claim, watch the orange and black more closely.
     And now, with the addition of rugged defenseman Chris Pronger (nine career suspensions, an average of about 100 penalty minutes per season) and feisty forward Ian Laperriere (163 PIM last season) _ and having Dan Carcillo (league-high 254 penalty minutes) for a full season _ the Flyers are expected to fill the penalty box in 2009-10.
     “Trust me. This is on the top of my to-do list this summer _ addressing some of those issues,” coach John Stevens said Monday after a news conference in which Pronger was introduced at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.
     Stevens thinks the addition of Pronger will actually help the Flyers DECREASE their penalties.
    “With Chris Pronger, we’ll have the puck more because of his patience, composure and his passing ability,” Stevens said. “I don’t see our team taking more penalties when you have the puck more.”
     Pronger, coupled with the maturity of the Flyers’ young defensemen, should help the team “make better decisions,” Stevens said.
    Stevens has been reviewing the Flyers’ 2008-09 penalty statistics in an effort to learn from past mistakes.
   “I’ve got the breakdown of how many penalties we took by period,” he said. “We took 170 in the first period, 174 in the second and 116 in third. And we were plus-27 in the third period in goals-for and goals-against,” he said.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist” to figure out their third-period success.
   Stevens has charted which Flyers have taken penalties in different periods.
   Scott Hartnell took the most first-period penalties. “And you have players like (Kimmo) Timonen and (Braydon) Coburn who are right there,” he said. “To me, one of our focuses is playing in the other end more and cutting down on turnovers. I don’t see Chris taking a lot of penalties if we’re playing above the red line more.”
     With maturity, Stevens said, Hartnell “can eliminate the unnecessary penalties, where you don’t even have to force the referee to make a decision. I think we have a style of play that suits us, and Chris fits that style great. But I think there are some things we can do to drop penalties.”
     Stevens said Laperriere “gets penalty minutes, but he doesn’t put teams at a disadvantage…with bad penalties. Carcillo? How many bad penalties did he take? The one in Ottawa comes to mind late in the year; other than that, I can’t think of one.”
     In any event, this is an area that will surely become a hot topic during the season.

    Pronger is in the final year of his contract and he can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Pronger's agent, Pat Morris, and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren have had talks about an extension.
     It may not be easy. Pronger figures to be seeking a four-year extension in the $25 million neighborhood.
   “We’re just getting started,” said Morris, referring to the contract talks. “Whether we can finish is up to both sides, but we’re going to try. And if we can’t, then the player’s got a little bit of a risk and the team probably has a lot of risk because there will always be another place for Chris to play.”
    Morris said Pronger “looks good in a Flyers uniform, and hopefully he doesn’t have to ever take it off. Chris wants to set some roots here in Philadelphia; his wife is here on the trip to look for a house, and all those things point to good things.”
    The Pronger family may settle in Haddonfield, Morris said.

    Adding Pronger and the 35-year-old Laperriere, a forward known for his defense, should enable the Flyers to improve on last season’s 44-27-11 record, Holmgren believes.
    Holmgren said the Flyers were too inconsistent last season.
   “I attribute that to youth,” he said, “but having Chris and Ian will help, and I also think the maturation process of our young players will be a factor, too. It’s all part of the process.”
    Learning to beat the arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins is also part of the process, one that excites Pronger. He is already plotting ways to contain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
   “You have to be physical and take away their time and space _ and make sure they pay a price when you get a chance,” Pronger said.
_ Sam Carchidi