RANKING THE NHL’S TOP 10: NO. 6, CHRIS PRONGER Star’s arrival allows Ducks to dream
Chris Pronger is getting better, not older, and making teams better is what he does. If he’s healthy, the sky’s the limit, RED FISHER reports. RED’S TOP- 10 COUNTDOWN
There is no question that selecting the NHL’s Top 10 for 2006- 07 is, for now at least, a crapshoot. A lot of things must happen for good things to happen. In Chris Pronger’s case, fitting in quickly in a new environment following his stunning trade to the Anaheim Ducks from the Edmonton Oilers is important.
Pronger was the biggest reason for the Oilers’ stunning ride into last year’s playoffs and on to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final before falling to the Carolina Hurricanes. Others such as goaltender Dwayne Roloson, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Mike Peca and Shawn Horcoff played prominent roles, but Pronger was the guy who made it work, just as he was the big man — all 6- 6 of him — during the late- season surge that provided the Oilers with the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.
Pronger turned 32 on Oct. 10, but he’s getting better, not older. If that wasn’t the case, it’s unlikely Ducks general manager Brian Burke would have considered taking on a player who still had four years remaining on a five- year contract worth a total of $ 31.25 million U. S.
“ We’re making a statement to our players and our fans that our goal is to win a championship,” said Burke, who gave up highly touted right- winger Joffrey Lupul and three draft picks for Pronger after the blue- liner asked to the Oilers to trade him only days after the end of last season because of “ personal reasons.”
It wasn’t as if Burke didn’t know what he was getting. He was the general manager in Hartford when the Whalers drafted the defenceman second overall in 1993.
Pronger was a presence during his nine seasons with St. Louis after the Blues acquired him in exchange for Brendan Shanahan on July 27, 1995. He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman and Hart Trophy as most valuable player with the Blues in 2000, the first defenceman since Bobby Orr in 1972 to win receive both honours in the same year. It was also a season in which Pronger recorded 106 hits, 185 blocked shots and a remarkable plus52 rating as he led the Blues to the 10. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay 9. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa 8. Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim 7. Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta 6. Chris Pronger, Anaheim This series will count down to No. 1 in the coming days and weeks. Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best regular- season record, including a team- record 51 victories and 114 points.
Pronger was also a tireless worker during his one season with the Oilers, who visit Anaheim tonight. The wonder of it all was that Pronger wasn’t one of the three finalists in the Norris voting last season. Making teams better is what he does. Making the Oilers the Cinderella team of last season’s playoffs was what he did.
He hits, he blocks shots, and he can be overpowering on the power play and in killing penalties. Imagine, for a moment, Pronger and Scott Niedermayer as Anaheim’s 1- 2 punch on defence this season. Sounds like fun.
How good was Pronger last season? Let’s agree the Oilers would not have made the playoffs without him, and they surely would not have gone as far as they did, upsetting the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Ducks and then rallying from a 3- 1 deficit to extend the Hurricanes to Game 7 of the final. Put it another way: Is there any doubt that, if the Oilers had managed to win the Cup, Pronger would have been named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP?
Pronger finished third among pointgetters in the playoffs with five goals and 16 assists in 24 games. His stamina in the postseason was exceptional, as he averaged more than 31 minutes per game. He spent far more time on the ice than any other Oiler and, like great players do, delivered 14 of his 21 postseason points on the road. Among them was the first successful penalty shot in Stanley Cup final history against Cam Ward in Carolina.
Pronger’s move to the Ducks was the most notable of the NHL offseason. Without him, the Ducks finished sixth in the Western Conference last season, only one point behind the Sharks. With him, the sky’s the limit. A healthy Pronger could lead Anaheim to the conference championship and, if he dominates the way he did in last season’s playoffs, all the way to the Stanley Cup.