Why does it seem that all the question marks for the Philadelphia Flyers for the upcoming season revolve around the team's defense?
Will the newly acquired Luke Schenn realize his first-round potential and become the top-four defenseman the Flyers desperately need him to be?
Will Andreas Lilja's nagging hip injury keep him out until October or January?
Will Andrej Meszaros (he of a recently torn right Achilles tendon) even play this season?
And will future Hall of Fame blueliner Chris Pronger ever play again?
The last of those is certainly the most pressing issue for the Flyers both now and over the long haul.
The 37-year-old Pronger suited up in just 13 games last season and hasn't played since November 19 as a result of post-concussion syndrome. So bad were his post-concussion symptoms that Pronger's season was ruled over in mid-December last year—nearly five months before Philly's season actually ended.
The question marks surrounding Pronger are so severe the concern doesn't just pertain to his ability to play this season but to ever skate in the NHL again. And while the speculation continues, the Flyers are forced to prepare for this season and beyond without any assurances from their captain and top defenseman.
The culture in Philadelphia is to craft a championship-caliber team each and every season. Rebuilding years don't exist for the Flyers. They don't rebuild, they reload. And Flyers GM Paul Holmgren has done a tremendous job stocking up on young offensive talent to give this team a chance to win now.
The problem is the questions remain on defense with the biggest of those being the future of Pronger. For the sake of the Flyers' future, Philadelphia needs their captain's future resolved now.
And if this summer is any indication, the Flyers already know their hulking defenseman's career is over.
When Philadelphia inked restricted free-agent blueliner Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet, the Flyers were essentially trying to land themselves a younger version of Pronger. Weber's physicality, leadership and offensive upside are all traits that have made Pronger an elite defender throughout his 18-year NHL career.
And while both the Flyers and Pronger have remained quiet on the subject of their collective future, it seems hard to believe Philadelphia would have felt comfortable inking Weber for the next decade and a half at an annual cap hit of nearly $8 million if it believed Pronger would ever don the orange and black again.
More than likely, the Flyers and Pronger have had joint meetings or at least conversations where they had to face the harsh reality that the Dryden, Ontario native's career is over. Obviously this information hasn't trickled down to the media or the public, and that's fine. Truthfully, it doesn't concern any of the rest of us.
With all that Pronger has accomplished in his NHL career it can't be an easy realization that the only thing he's ever known is no longer an option. For the Flyers, their internal office simply needs to have a plan to replace Pronger moving forward. That plan seems to have begun with Weber and will now need to move to Plan B.
Regardless, the Flyers need to know Pronger's future one way or another.
Because Pronger's contract was signed when he was over 35 years old his annual salary will continue to count against the Flyers' salary cap until the end of his deal. Philadelphia can receive at least some cap relief by placing him on long-term injured reserve, but the taller task is finding a replacement, or more realistically replacements, for Pronger.
At this moment, Philadelphia doesn't have a championship-caliber team, but it's getting closer.
The offensive building blocks are in place, and while Ilya Bryzgalov didn't show it in his first season in Philadelphia, he has the ability to backstop this team to where it wants to go.
Again though, the questions remain on defense and there's certainly no bigger question than Pronger. But as long as he and the Philly brass can come to an internal resolution soon, the future can remain bright for the Flyers.
Even without Pronger.
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