The price of Pronger
LONDON—Scott Niedermayer was, at least to these eyes, both the NHL’s best defenceman last year and most valuable player.
He won neither trophy and wasn’t even a finalist for the Hart, but hey, you had to watch the Ducks a lot to get the understand, As far as the Norris Trophy, you really had to watch Nicklas Lidstrom a lot to understand he’s not the rearguard he once was.
That was a Norris won on reputation, folks.
Chris Pronger, meanwhile, was the NHL’s best defenceman during the playoffs, with Buffalo’s Henrik Tallinder a close second until he busted his arm.
So now Anaheim has both Niedermayer and Pronger, an outstanding 1-2 tandem. Both know what its like to be part of a dynamic duo. Niedermayer and Scott Stevens were together for 10 years in New Jersey and won three Stanley Cups. Pronger and Al MacInnis were signature players for the St. Louis Blues and won nothing.
So if, as has been reliably reported, the Leafs could have landed Pronger for a package involving Tomas Kaberle and Alex Steen, should GM John Ferguson have pulled the trigger?
No, is the simple answer. Pronger’s better than Kaberle, that’s for sure. But the Leafs, it says here, are a team that needs to establish a philosophy of keeping and developing players they draft. And Kaberle and Steen both qualify.
Why have the Devils been so good for so long? Well, one of the reasons is that current Jersey players like Martin Brodeur, Colin White, Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Jay Pandolfo, Sergei Brylin, Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin, David Hale, Zach Parise and John Madden have never played for any other NHL teams. They’re Devils now and they’ve only been Devils. As one hockey person once told me, you never, ever get the same sense of loyalty and commitment from any player as you do from those you draft yourself.
I think Steve Yzerman demonstrated that, wouldn’t you say?
Of course, sometimes you have to move prospects to get better. That’s certainly what Brian Burke was thinking by dealing Joffrey Lupul and Ladislav Smid for Pronger. But with Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill, the Leafs have a chance to have one of the best blueline groups they’ve had in years.
At some point, you have to look past the fact that all four are probably being paid more than they’re worth and examine the abilities and contributions. Just as important, however, the Leafs simply couldn’t afford to move Steen. They don’t have enough good offensive forwards, and they certainly don’t have enough good young offensive forwards.
Matt Stajan or Kyle Wellwood would have been different stories. But not Steen. Looking west, there’s no doubt Anaheim is likely to be a strong force next fall. They had Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, so they could afford to part with Lupul. They will have Niedermayer and Pronger logging 30-plus minutes each for the next four years at least, plus one of last year’s surprise players, Francois Beauchemin. Smid would have been years away from being an important Anaheim player.
But the Ducks, now sans the Mighty, have two big worries.
First, what are the chances that right winger Teemu Selanne, who turned 36 this week, will have another 40-goal season? Second, are either Jean-Sebastien Giguere or Ilya Bryzgalov really the answer in goal?
For the Leafs, meanwhile, another offensive forward is needed. Anson Carter is interesting. But Sergei Samsonov would be a much, much more interesting. He’s just 27, for starters. He’s an outstanding offensive talent, albeit one that doesn’t shoot or score as much as you’d like. His durability is also a question mark. The number he’ll come it at, meanwhile, should be around $3 million. Samsonov would be an imperfect but more than capable fit on Mats Sundin’s wing.