Chris Pronger traded for Joffrey Lupul, a defensive prospect and a collection of first round picks. Talk about deja vu all over again.
In a transaction eerily similar to the one that brought them Chris Pronger in the first place, the Anaheim Ducks fired a blast from the past to secure their longterm future as a Stanley Cup contender.
For those who missed the blockbuster trade at the opening of this year’s NHL entry draft, the Ducks sent former league MVP and defensive cornerstone Chris Pronger along with LW Ryan Dingle to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for RW Joffrey Lupul, D Luca Sbisa and two first round picks. While it’s still unclear how the Philly brass intends to fit Pronger under the salary cap without additional moves (most likely involving Daniel Briere), there’s no denying that Chris Pronger was born to play the role of “Broad Street Bully.” It’s a role that Philly GM Paul Holmgren considers as crucial to toppling the Malkin & Crosby two-headed-monster from Pittsburgh should the clubs meet for the third consecutive time in next year’s playoffs.
Certainly it’s a move the Ducks can understand as they sent essentially the same package of players (RW Joffrey Lupul, D Ladislav Smid and two first round picks along with a 2nd) to the Edmonton Oilers in July of 2006 in exchange for Pronger. Then, as now, the former league MVP was regarded as a big bodied, minutes eating, do-it-all defenseman – the final piece of the puzzle needed to turn a Stanley Cup pretender to contender. In the spring of 2007, Pronger lived up to the hype, partnering with Scott Niedermayer to form an unbeatable defensive tandem that powered the Ducks to their first and only Stanley Cup triumph. If history is any indication then, Chris Pronger is clearly a player capable of putting a team solidly in the hunt for Lord Stanley. So how is it the Ducks feel they’re better off without him? The answer as always in the era of the new NHL is ‘contract.’
With one season left on Pronger’s contract and unrestricted free agency looming, Ducks’ GM Bob Murray faced the very real prospect of losing three franchise cornerstones in the space of a calendar year without receiving a single player in return (Scott Niedermayer & Teemu Selanne to retirement & Chris Pronger to free agency). Fortunately for Duck fans, Murray is far too smooth a chess player to let that happen. Thinking three moves ahead, the Ducks’ GM started laying the groundwork for Pronger’s departure months ago with the late season acquisitions of defensemen Ryan Whitney, James Wisniewski, Steve Montador and Sheldon Brookbank.
After restocking his arsenal with defensive talent, Murray then set about shopping Pronger for the best package available. High on his wishlist was a proven second line scorer, first round picks to replenish the Ducks’ farm system and even more defensive talent. The latter was essential given the still uncertain status of Scott Niedermayer and UFA Francois Beauchemin entering the draft. So, when Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren came calling with a package every bit the equal of what Anaheim had traded to get Pronger in the first place, Murray quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that will ultimately determine both the longterm future of the Ducks’ organization and their immediate viability as a serious contender for the Cup. It was a decisive move by a GM that has often been portrayed as a passive player, slave to the retirement whims of his star players, a reputation that Murray is clearly keen to distance himself from.
“First of all, it was in the works well before Scott told me,” Murray said Friday. “With the offer Philly threw at me, as with any player, it was something that was the right thing to do for the organization no matter what Scott said. Obviously, I took a huge sigh when Scott said he was going to play, but I was going to do it anyway regardless.
“We had made the decision very late last night this was how we were going to go forward. At some point in time, this organization is going to be without Scotty and now Chris. Some day neither one of them were going to be there. It’s time we started preparing for that. It was time for us to move forward and that was what I was doing. (Flyers GM) Paul (Holmgren) is trying to win. He is doing what we did three years ago. Paul is taking a Hall of Famer.”
If Murray was pleased with Niedermayer’s draft day decicion to return, he was doubly pleased with a similar announcement from Teemu Selanne later in the day. In the space of 48 hours, the Ducks had been transformed from a team clouded in uncertainty to a team fully restocked for another Cup run with a solid mix of youthful skill and veteran leadership at their disposal. Better still for Ducks fans, Pronger’s departure frees up some much needed cap space for the team enabling Murray to take a run at resigning Beauchemin or casting his eye over the free agent market for a top six forward to complete an already impressive quintent featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Joffrey Lupul and Selanne.
Most importantly, while the immediate future looks bright for the Ducks, so too does the longterm outlook with the draft day acquisition of not one, but three first round picks, all of whom look to have all star potential. Heading the list is Sbisa. The 19th pick in last season’s entry draft, the Italian bred defenseman played half a season for the Flyers last year acquiting himself well for a rookie with 7 points and -6 plus/minus rating in 39 appearances. Sbisa projects as an eventual top 4 defensemen with Murray expectant he’ll make the Ducks lineup this year with a strong showing in training camp.
“Sbisa, I am really excited about,” said Murray. “He’s my type of defenseman. He can do everything. He’s a guy that just shows up and goes out and play, which is what I like. I know Philly was planning on having him on their team this year. My guys tell me that he’ll play on our team this year. He will ultimately in training camp determine whether he plays on our team this year or not.”
Following Sbisa’s acquisition, the Ducks added to their impressive roster of big and skilled offensive prospects with the drafting of Canadian center Peter Holland and American winger Kyle Palmieri with the 15th and 26th picks respectively before dipping into the defensive well again, selecting American defenseman Matt Clark with the 37th pick overall. Beyond the immediate impact of Lupul who enjoyed his best ever season as a Duck with 28 goals prior to his departure to Edmonton in the first Pronger trade, it is the eventual development of these newly acquired prospects that will ultimately determine the final verdict on the second Chris Pronger deal. In restocking his farm system, Murray has essentially brought the Ducks full circle. Under Brian Burke, the team mortgaged its future for Pronger and a shot at the Cup, a gambit that ultimately proved successful. Now under Murray, the Ducks have turned back time, exchanging Pronger for Lupul once again along with an infusion of much needed youth originally lost to the organization in the trade with the Oilers.
Will the second Pronger trade return the Ducks to the lofty status of Cup champion? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: with this trade, Bob Murray has positioned his club to contend for the Cup for many years to come and that is all you can ask of the man in charge.