29 June 2009

Chris Pronger is a Flyer, but didn't need to be

The big news lately around the NHL (aside from the buildup for July 1) is the Chris Pronger trade from Anaheim to Philadelphia. The deal was Chris Pronger & Ryan Dingle from Anaheim to Philadelphia for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, 2 first round draft picks, and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2010 or 2011. Its a pretty hefty price for Pronger, and I don't think anyone can say that the Ducks didn't get enough in exchange. It was a good return for the trade. On the Flyers end of it, if Pronger walks at the end of this season, then I would say they overpaid, but not terribly. If Pronger resigns with the team, then it was a good deal.

Despite the big price tag, Chris Pronger is undoubtedly one of the top defensemen in the league. I can't think of anyone I would hate to see on an opposing blueline more than Pronger, especially come playoff time. In the Eastern Conference, where defense is secondary to offense, and superstars like Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin are allowed to drive to the net relentlessly, Pronger will be even more valuable. He makes sure that getting to his net isn't easy, that you have to pay the toll in sweat (and maybe some blood) to get there. I can think of a couple stars who could be in for a rude awakening when they play the Flyers next.

However, all that said, if Pronger was willing to resign with the Ducks and work out an extension before next summer, then I don't like this deal so much from the Ducks' perspective. Chris Pronger will be 35 this fall, meaning (as I understand it at least) that any new contract he signs will be subject to the guarantees that come with signing a player over 35. This would help keep his price down a little, as no one wants to be stuck with an immovable contract for an injured defenseman (hey, the Flyers would know about that!). Also, given that he would enter free agency in either the second year of an unmoving salary cap, or even a decreasing one, there would be less available money to be offered to him, and bidding wars would be somewhat tempered.

Chris Pronger's current deal has him counting for 6.250M/yr cap hits. He peaked with some absolutely stellar playoff runs in 2006 (Oilers) and 2007 (Ducks). That already gives him the 9th highest 09/10 cap hit amongst defensemen (obviously pending the events of this year's free agent period). Combined with the above issues (less to spend, Pronger being over 35), I don't think its unreasonable that he could've been resigned for 6M or so per year, and we can stick with 6.25M to be generous. I'd give him a 4 or 5 year deal (taking him to age 39 or 40) for about a 6M cap hit per year. Again, this is all assuming he was willing to resign with the Ducks.

The issue that precipitated this trade was the decision to return to the Ducks by Scott Niedermayer. Niedermayer will be 36 this fall, and he has spent the last few years trying to decide if he wants to retire or not, continuing to resign in one year increments. There has been tons of speculation that the main reason he has stuck around this long is to play in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. After that, its entirely likely he rides off into the sunset. Without any sort of multi-year committment from Niedermayer, it could be just one year until the Ducks, who've had great success behind a couple of Norris winning defensemen, find themselves without any Norris winners on their blueline at all.

Given the choice between continuing to reup on a year to year basis (and the inability to plan ahead going forward because of it) with Scott Niedermayer, or being able to retain Pronger until he's 40 or close to it, I don't see how the decision couldn't go in Pronger's favor. Sure, Niedermayer is a great defenseman, but if you're an opposing forward, is there anyone you'd want to face least other than Chris Pronger? If nothing else, you can call the two even in terms of defensive ability and what they bring to the table, and then the question is simply whether or not to keep Niedermayer on a year to year basis, or to sign Pronger for a longer term. One of these gives you the ability to plan ahead, knowing that 30 of a possible 120 minutes a night on defense are already going to be covered for the next several years, and one of them doesn't tell you anything beyond the next year.

To hear the Ducks tell it, the biggest issue here was money, namely that they didn't want to commit 12M to two of the best defensemen in the league, as they have the last few years. I would have an easier time buying this if Joffrey Lupul hadn't been a part of the return for Pronger. Lupul is now the third highest paid forward on the Ducks, with a 4.25M/yr cap hit, and he's never scored more than 56 points in an NHL season. If you take his 2007-08 Flyers season (56 GP, 20-26-46) and extrapolate that out over a full 82 game season, you at least get 67 points, which is better, but still not great, especially when he has yet to be able to replicate such a result. The Ducks could've spent an extra ~2M and instead locked up one of the best defensemen in the league, and told Niedermayer to take less money (like maybe Lupul's 4.25M) or let him walk, and I think they'd have been ahead than where they are now.

EDIT: It appears the Ducks are already attempting to trade Giguere, as he has put together a short list of teams he'd find acceptable in a trade. The fact that they could soon be relieved of a 6M/yr backup goalie makes the money angle on the Pronger trade even sillier, I think. (And for what its worth, I wouldn't trade Giguere yet anyways. I'd want to make sure Hiller wasn't a one hit wonder first, and give Giguere a chance to play and get his trade value back up to where it belongs.)


  1. ARTHUR:
    I think, with Giguere, the money angle is about freeing up money because there is some redundancy there. With Pronger, I think Murray just knows he won't be able to afford him, give Ryan a raise, give Hiller a raise and deal with the reduced Cap next year.

    I know there's plenty of cap space this year, but I don't think the Ducks want to be a spend to the cap team. Even if the economy turns around, spending to the limit has really hurt the team, even if just by keeping Ryan in the minors for an extra dozen games.

  2. I think, with Giguere, the money angle is about freeing up money because there is some redundancy there. With Pronger, I think Murray just knows he won't be able to afford him, give Ryan a raise, give Hiller a raise and deal with the reduced Cap next year.

    If you get rid of Giguere, I see no reason why all that couldn't be done. A new deal for Pronger would probably involve an actual cap hit of a little under 6M (I'd see such a contract going down steadily as he approaches 40, doing something like 6.20, 6.00, 5.80, 5.60). Hiller gets Giguere's old money, and Ryan probably ends up with around 5M, given his small sample size. The only thing on Ryan, which Earl alluded to over at BoC, was if Ryan doesn't decide to tell the Ducks to fuck off for keeping him in the AHL for several years and lowering his earning power and keeping him off the Cup team in 2007. Especially with the bargain contracts the Ducks have for Perry and Getzlaf, I think there's definitely some room there for those deals, doubly so when you consider that by the time those new deals would need to be worked out, Niedermayer is gone.

    Basically, Pronger gets Niedermayer's money, Hiller get's Gigueres, and Ryan gets a raise. The only real spending increase is Ryan, and part of that is mitigated by not having 2 6M defensemen anymore. And thats before you consider things like maybe Pronger gets a little smaller cap hit over his deal, or Hiller gets a little smaller contract because of lack of sample size.