Ed Moran: Pronger should provide just what Flyers need

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Chris Pronger will bring experience and toughness to Flyers' defense.

IT'S HARD NOT TO look at what the Flyers gave up to get Chris Pronger from Anaheim and think of it as a very high price for an older defenseman.

Luca Sbisa is going to be a very good defenseman. Joffrey Lupul is a decent forward now with upside in the right situation. And who knows what two first-round draft picks would have brought to the team eventually?

Eventually.

That's the key word in all of this.

Sbisa was forced into a situation last season he didn't need to be in and probably would not have been except for the preseason injuries to Randy Jones and Ryan Parent. Draft picks after the top three are really just prospects, and Lupul probably would have been traded for cap space anyway.

What Paul Holmgren has done with this trade was exactly what the Flyers needed.

They went from soft out front to scary for probably more than 22 minutes a game. Pronger will be 35 when the season starts, but he still logs big minutes, is 6-6 and plays mean. He'll get more penalty minutes with the Flyers, but at least they won't be dumb penalties.

And the Flyers will have two sets of defensemen who can defend against the best forwards in the league.

Kimmo Timonen has a knack for shutting down guys like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but Pittsburgh made life tough on him in the playoffs by sending Chris Kunitz after him from the first shift.

But there is another very big component to this trade. Pronger is an established leader and knows how to win. Something was missing from the Flyers' locker room last year; they played flat and seemingly uncommitted in some of the most critical games of the season.

One risky aspect of the move is the fact that Pronger is in the final year of his contract and will be unrestricted at the end of next season. Holmgren already has said he will get to work on signing Pronger for the long term, but doing that and staying under the $56.8 million salary cap will be difficult. It might be something that does not get done until later in the season.

So the Flyers have added a fiery guy on defense and a fiery guy in Ray Emery in goal, and you can bet that will make the crease in Philadelphia a tough place to be.

This was a very good move on a lot of fronts, despite the cost in players and picks. Sure, it could backfire, but it was a risk worth taking. Pronger will be good for the Flyers' young players. Saying stuff like "It was just one game" after a loss, or challenging the general manager's assessment that there was an attitude problem, won't happen with a veteran leader like Pronger around.

And it will go a long way to helping John Stevens as well.

"When you add a guy like that, he's a special player, in my opinion," Stevens said. "That's why we had to give up such good players.

"He brings so many things to our team - size, experience, attitude, leadership. He's the complete package. We liked our back end before, we really like it now."

 

Second-day prospects

 

The Flyers rounded out the 2009 NHL entry draft by taking a goalie and a Swedish defenseman in the third round, a goalie in the fifth, a center and a wing in the sixth, and another defenseman in the seventh.

These guys are prospects and before anyone says they have no chance, consider this: Ron Hextall was taken in the sixth round with the 119th overall pick in 1982.

Adam Morrison, the 81st overall pick, the Flyers' first pick of the weekend, is an 18-year-old goalie who plays with Saskatoon in the Western Hockey League. He's 6-3, a little lean at 166 pounds, and had a 2.49 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 13 games.

"All our guys liked him. We actually sent Neil Little in to watch him a number of times," Holmgren said. "He didn't play many games. He was behind a Washington draft pick that played most of the games. This kid will play a lot more games for his junior team. We've liked him and we've done our homework on him and we're very high on him."

With their next pick, No. 87, the Flyers took a highly touted Swedish defenseman who was expected to go in the first round but didn't. The 6-foot, 185-pound, 18-year-old Simon Bertilsson was ranked 17th overall among European defensemen. "We like Simon," Holmgren said. "He's a hard-nosed kid and really good with the puck. We like him a lot."

The Flyers' other picks: goalie Nicola Riopel, of Moncton in the Quebec junior league; center Dave Labrecque, from Shawinigan in Quebec; left wing Eric Wellwood, from Ontario Hockey League champion Windsor; and defenseman Oliver Lauridsen, a native of Denmark who played collegiately for St. Cloud (Min.) State last season.

 

Free agency

 

With the free-agent market opening Wednesday, the Flyers are not expected to make any big noise, but they do have some gaps to fill. They still need a backup goalie, and they would like to get Mike Knuble, an unrestricted free agent, back under contract. There are a number of teams interested in him, but Knuble would like to stay here and the Flyers would like to keep him. They are about $5 million under the cap.

"We have work to do. We'll take a look at things and get busy," Holmgren said.

 

And finally

 

After all the talk about how much Jay Bouwmeester could bring in a trade, the Florida Panthers sent his rights to Calgary in a swap for the rights to Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick. Both Bouwmeester and Leopold are unrestricted free agents. Seems kind of anticlimactic considering that Florida was trying to get a package of players from the Flyers for him. *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com