Steve Carroll: The Pronger Effect
From Hartford, Connecticut to St. Louis, Missouri to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and now to Anaheim, California.
The Anaheim Ducks welcome 6'-6", 220-pound defenseman Chris Pronger to Southern California after completing a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. And their new addition is delighted to be here.
"I want to thank Brian Burke and his staff for going out and getting me," said Pronger, who spoke with the media after his acquisition. "I am excited to be coming to a team that I know very well, obviously, having played them in the Western Conference Finals."
Anaheim Ducks General Manager Brian Burke was just as thrilled with his new addition. "No offense to any other defenseman in the National Hockey League, but I think experts would tell you that that the three best defensemen in the NHL in any order that you like are Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom," says Burke." There are a lot of other good players, too. But those are the best in the league right now."
"By having a chance to lock this guy up, I think we did as well as any other team did in the free agent market," added Burke. "We had to give up significant assets in this move. There was a plan B. If this didn't happen quickly, we were definitely moving on a couple of guys, but not of the same caliber, though."
The Ducks give up right wing Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Ladislav Smid, a first-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, a second round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and a conditional pick for Pronger.
"Lupul was the most improved forward on the team this year," says Burke. "I thought in the second half of the season and in the playoffs, he really elevated his game. He's a quality person and it was not easy to put him in this deal. It's that simple. Ladislav Smid is a wonderful kid and our fans have heard about him for the past two years. It's too bad they are going to have to watch him come into our building in blue now, because he is going to play in this league for a long time. I have said that he has the best hockey sense of any defenseman in our organization other than Scott Niedermayer. He has a great head for the game and a great personality. He is going to be a good pro."
Good trades work for both teams. Burke says it is his hope that the trade works for both teams. It will make the Ducks better and the Oilers better as well.
The relationship between Burke and the Pronger family goes back to 1991 when Brian was the assistant General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks at that time drafted a young man named Sean Pronger in the third round.
"I was impressed with his intelligence and his character," says Burke. "I met his parents and was impressed with his parents. Two years later, when I was the General Manager in Hartford, I had the chance to draft Chris Pronger. For me, it was a no-brainer. We had the sixth pick in the draft, overall. We traded up to the second pick because we were pretty sure he wouldn't get past the second pick. I was so impressed with him as a junior in Peterborough. I was impressed with the minutes he played and his hockey sense and toughness. We decided to do everything we could to get him. We were fortunate enough to do that."
Chris Pronger never actually played a game for Brian because after the draft, Burke went to the league office to work.
"This is a deal we had to do despite the high price," added Burke. "This is a guy that plays big minutes; he's a big bodied guy who provides offense. He is excellent defensively. He's had a leadership role on every team he's played on in terms of being a captain or an assistant captain. He's the whole package."
"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup." says Burke. "I think our odds improved today by adding Chris Pronger. We are ecstatic to have him."
Pronger was an integral part of the Oilers win over the Ducks in the Western Conference Final.
"In watching the Ducks play against Calgary in the first round of the playoffs and their second round win over Colorado, they played very well," said Pronger, the Hart and Norris Trophy winner in 2000. "From the Edmonton perspective going into that series, we knew it was going to be a battle and certainly from watching the Calgary series, it would be a physical series. Obviously, we needed to step that up. In our five game series with Anaheim, scoring the first goal was a lot of times the biggest difference to that series. The make-up of the team has certainly got a lot of depth and a lot of youth. They were a tough team for us to handle."
For Chris Pronger and his new teammate, Scott Niedermayer, this situation is unique when it comes to matching up against the other team's top line.
"One of us doesn't have to go over the boards every time the number one line of the opposing team comes out on the ice," added Pronger. "Certainly, that's a nice luxury to have. We are both in the prime of our careers. I am looking forward to the opportunity of playing with him and playing with the Ducks."
This trade will probably move most people to consider the Ducks, if not the favorites for the Stanley Cup, certainly among the favorites to win it all. Is that a label that Chris Pronger welcomes?
"I think expectations need to be high," adds Pronger, who has played 802 career NHL games. "If that's what people want to label you with, then that's fine. It's just a label. You have to go out and set goals and expectations in the locker room and certainly amongst your team. I don't think anyone is setting them low. A lot of the young players here got some great experience playing in the Western Finals and got a taste of what it takes. I think we are going to look to build on the season they just had here. Hopefully, we will play even better."
During the recent playoffs, Pronger played with a lot of composure and did his best to stay out of the penalty box.
"It's a combination of a lot of things," mentioned Pronger, laughing at the statement from as member of the local media. "Age and maturity and everything that comes with that. I think the new rules have helped in not having to deal with all the hooking and holding and all the stuff that used to go on in the playoffs. That is not allowed now. You learn through a lot of mistakes and learn through a lot of different life lessons."
Will Chris Pronger ask Rob Niedermayer for number 44?
"I really haven't thought about it, the whole number deal." said Pronger. "I'm far enough along in my career that numbers don't really matter."
The only number that matters to NHL teams when they come to training camp is the number one. That is the Stanley Cup Champions.
With the addition of Chris Pronger this summer, this broadcaster thinks the Anaheim Ducks are a major contender for the Stanley Cup.