The trade that sent Chris Pronger from Anaheim to Philadelphia was one of the highlights of this year's NHL draft. It also ended up being one of the more controversial moves of the offseason, sparking debate as to whether or not the Flyers gave up too much in return, or signed him for too long, for too much money. All of which might end up being true at some point in the future, but there's no question that when Philadelphia made the move it was putting all of its chips on the table and going for it this season.
Was it worth it?
The price Philadelphia paid was steep: the equivalent of three first-round picks (Luca Sbisa -- its first-round pick from the previous year -- its first-round pick this year, as well as its first-round pick next year) and forward Joffrey Lupul, a steady 20-goal, 50-point forward who's still only 26-years-old. When the trade went down I argued that the Flyers would need to make a deep run in the postseason to make it all worthwhile, and after Tuesday's 3-0 win against Montreal -- their second shutout in a row -- to take a 2-0 lead in the Conference Final, I think this can now be qualified as a deep run.
When looking at what Philadelphia gave up for this season, Sbisa played just eight games in the NHL, while Lupul was limited to just 26 games due to a back injury. And that first-round pick for this year is going to be a late pick (no better than 27th).
As our Bruce Ciskie pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Pronger, while at times this season showing he's not exactly the player he once was, can still be a force along the blue line. And the playoffs are showing it. The 35-year-old has been a horse for the Flyers, not only contributing 12 points in 14 games on the offensive end of the ice, but also by averaging close to 29 minutes per game (28:53 to be exact), nearly four minutes more than his per-game average during the regular season. There have only been five players that averaged more than 27 minutes this postseason (Pronger, Zdeno Chara, Dan Boyle, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith).
What's amazing about the Flyers' postseason run is how they've been doing it. We like to criticize their front office for not addressing the team's consistently sketchy goaltending situation, which seems to be their ultimate downfall each and every year. And it was supposed to happen again this season. Only it hasn't. Actually, what Paul Holmgren and Co. appear to have done is taken a page out of the Ken Holland/Detroit Red Wings playbook: invest your money in defense, and find a goalie that's simply not going to lose games for you. With Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, the Flyers committed over $17 million of their $56.8 million cap to four defensemen (Detroit was really the only other team with a similar investment in its top-four this season -- and Calgary, before it traded Dion Phaneuf) and used a platoon of stop-gap keepers. Or, in other words, they threw a bunch of things at the wall and hoped something stuck.
The Flyers, with Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton occupying the crease, have already recorded four shutouts, and limited their opponents to two goals or less in eight of their 14 playoff games. It's been enough to give them the best goals against average in the entire playoffs. With Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. Up is officially down, and dogs are living with cats.
Leighton and Boucher, currently ranked first and second in goals against average (Leighton also has the best save percentage in the playoffs) have definitely exceeded expectations. And playing against New Jersey and Boston, two teams that didn't exactly set the world on fire with offense this season in the first two rounds, certainly didn't hurt. But the defense, and Pronger in particular, deserve a lot of credit as well. Philadelphia has given up just 17 even strength goals in the playoffs, and Pronger has been on the ice for just eight of them (and two of those goals were of the empty net variety).
Or if Pronger hits the proverbial wall in the coming years.
But, if the Flyers can continue this run -- they are, after all, just two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final -- and end a 34-year championship drought, is anybody in Philadelphia going to care? Probably not for another seven years.