In football they say defense wins championships, in baseball good pitching beats good hitting but in hockey great defensive play is overlooked for some reason. Most of the attention in the NHL goes to the man who makes the save and the defense is overlooked. They are like the offensive line in football, they only get noticed if they do something wrong. Last year in the postseason, Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger was a major reason for their deep run in the playoffs. He has the ability to single handily completely shut down one of the opponent’s top scorers. His combination of leadership, gamesmanship and pure talent earns him a spot at number seven on our countdown.
Pronger has been a winner his whole career. He has an impressive resume with 2 gold medals and has won one Stanley Cup. He is also a 6time all-star and the 2000 recipient of the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. He was the first defenseman to win the award since Bobby Orr won it in 1972. Pronger and Orr are the only defensemen to win the award in the last 60 years! On June 27th 2009, the Flyers acquired who some thought was the best defenseman in the game. They sent Joffrey Lupul, young defenseman Luca Sbisa, 2 first round picks and a conditional third round pick to the Ducks in exchange for Pronger. The deal was clearly a win now move for the franchise and immediately made them a favorite in the Eastern Conference.
In his first season with team last season he played all 82 games. He led the team in assists with 45 and had a plus/minus of +22 which was best on the team. He also led the team in total ice time per game with 25:55 minutes per game. Pronger has been limited to just 50 games so far this season with multiple injuries and will likely be sidelined for most of the remainder of the regular season after having hand surgery. Due to his limited action he has only managed to register 25 points. But the rest for the 36 year old should only benefit him in the playoffs. He logged a lot of ice time last season and seemed to wear down in the finals.
Chris Pronger is an absolute monster on the ice. He towers over opposing players standing 6-6 and weighing 214 pounds. He has a way of completely engulfing offensive players that he faces and uses his massive size to his advantage. Pronger has a way to conserve his own energy while he is on the ice. When you watch him play he seems to just glide to pucks and his smart play allows him to not waste energy on his own mistakes. Pronger is more of a defensive defenseman but his hard shot from the point has found the net a lot during his career. His main offensive punch comes on the power play as he has 82 career power play goals and 284 power play assist. The Flyers have used his massive frame as he spent some time in front of the net on the power play. The team would deploy Pronger to the front of the net to disrupt the goalie and try to cause havoc for the opposing D in front of the net.
Pronger is type of player that you hate if he is facing your team, but you love him when he is wearing your team’s jersey. You could say that he is a borderline dirty player but he knows what he can and can’t do and he does his best to get into the heads of his opponents. The best example of his head games was on display against the Blackhawks last season during the Stanley Cup Finals. After the Flyers lost game 1 of the finals 6-5, Pronger scooped up the puck. He later said that the puck had ended up in the garbage. He did the same thing after another 1 goal loss in game 2, when he innocently skated over to the puck, picked it up and took it with him into the locker room. The pucks would have made a nice souvenir for one of the Chicago’s player but it now belonged to the Flyers defenseman. While taking the puck he was confronted by former Flyer Ben Eager.
“I don’t speak whatever language Eager was speaking.” Pronger said “Apparently, it got him upset. So I guess it worked, didn’t it? It’s too bad. I guess little things amuse little minds.”
They say that you can’t teach size and that is something that Pronger definitely possesses. While he has missed a lot of time this season for the Flyers, he will have to be a crucial part if they want to make another deep run in the playoffs. The play of the Flyers defense will only be amplified due to their lack of an elite goalie. Pronger and his fellow defenseman will have to limit the opponent’s chances as much as possible if they intend to win in the postseason. The Flyers are deeper in defenseman this season and Pronger will not be asked to play the amount of ice time he did last postseason. But his ability to completely engulf and shutdown opponents is something his fellow defenseman simply can’t do. Pronger ranks among the best defenseman in the NHL and ranks #7 on our list of the Best Athlete’s in Philadelphia.