Could the Flyers bring back Chris Pronger?

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Could the Flyers bring back Chris Pronger?

Chris Pronger has been called a lot of things in nearly 25 years in the NHL.

Leader. Dirty. Tough. Nasty. Hard-nosed. In your face and even old school.

“I might’ve been old school, but it doesn’t mean I see the game that way,” Pronger, now working in Florida’s front office, said before to Thursday’s Flyers-Panthers game. “As the game has adapted from when I first came into the league — there were no bench-clearing brawls, there was no hooking and holding — I was supposedly going to be a dinosaur. I’m my opinion, I got better.”

Perhaps better, but certainly wiser throughout an 18-year career. Engaging and at times intimidating, Pronger always seemed to have a much more practical side to him.

After spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and still being compensated from the seven-year extension he signed with the Flyers in June 2009, Pronger was essentially an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his professional hockey career this past summer.

After a few meetings and discussions with Panthers management — which included former Flyers executive Peter Luukko — Pronger agreed on a one-year contract as the team’s senior advisor of hockey operations. 

“I counsel and advise on various matters related to the hockey operations side,” Pronger said. “I’m more players and personnel and what I know about certain players, what I think of them, how they play, relate it to today’s game. Just kind of give my feedback on what I see. You take it for what it’s worth.

“You try to be a sounding board at times for some of the players. I’ve had a chance to interact with some of them, get to know them a little more on a personal level, learn what makes them tick and try and learn how they can be pushed, prodded and poked to be better. Some are like me and some are not. Everybody’s different so you got to learn that through interactions and talking with them.”

The job is also perfectly tailored to Pronger’s family life. He still resides in St. Louis and only attends a handful of Panthers games. On top of player management, he occasionally scouts, and with that, he can easily commute just about anywhere in North America within a three-hour flight.

However, ask Pronger where he sees himself in the next three-to-five years and he has absolutely no clue, only reiterating a desire to become a general manager someday. 

“I would like to,” Pronger said. “As a player, I could project that far out and tell you what I was going to do, but right now, I got a one-year contract here and I’m going to do my duties and proceed as planned this year. I’ll do the best I can for Dale (Tallon) and this organization and then we’ll see what happens after that.”  

Which is why Pronger would prove to be a valuable asset somewhere on Ron Hextall’s staff. Not because of his Hextall-like demeanor on the ice or that he was born to wear the orange and black, as former Ducks GM Brian Burke once stated. Pronger and Hextall haven’t discussed any future position, and with Hextall in Buffalo for the World Junior Championships this week, the two former Flyers didn’t have the opportunity to talk in person.

But Pronger brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to an organization in a transitional phase, especially defensively with their younger prospects. He’s worked briefly with Samuel Morin, who's drawn comparisons to Pronger, and has been credited for getting Aaron Ekblad’s career back on track.

Understandably, he’s more discerning of today’s players. 

“I just think they’re different. They’ve all grown up differently,” Pronger said. “I grew up in the non-internet age. So, I didn’t know who anybody was. I got my information out of Hockey Digest, my once-a-week manual in what’s going on in the NHL.

“You adapt, as players you adapt. You got to see where the trends are going, where the game is going and try and get out in front of it.”

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

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Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers


When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.