- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Chris Pronger, come on down.
It will be a monumental shock if the former Hart and Norris Trophy winner is not named the new Flyers captain at some point this offseason, and look for the Flyers' dressing room to be a better place than it has been the past two seasons in terms of in-house harmony.
Responding to a plethora of calls for the veteran defenseman, the Flyers made Pronger available on a conference call Friday morning.
The face of the franchise? You bet.
Pronger, who said he was "fishing in the bush" with his kids when the trades were announced Thursday afternoon, insisted he hasn't thought about the captaincy.
"You know what, I haven't put much thought into it," Pronger said. "I don't think you nominate yourself. I've never been part of a team where a guy nominates himself. It's one day after two huge trades on our team and in the history of the Flyers, so I don't think that's in anyone's mind right now."
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren rocked the hockey world Thursday, first trading once-upon-a-time 46-goal scorer Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets before sending Richards to the Los Angeles Kings. Holmgren followed that up by signing former Vezina Trophy nominee Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal.
"I think when you make a move like that to get a goalie and you've got to pay him, you've got to get the money somewhere," Pronger said. "Time and again in the salary cap era, you've got to give to get. Unfortunately for us, those two guys were traded.
"It sucks as a teammate. You hate to see guys go. They were, for all intents and purposes, the face of the franchise for four of those six years, if not for the six years they were here. I'm sure it's tough for them. The Philadelphia Flyers, it's all they really know."
There are a number of layers to Holmgren's bold moves, but it seems clear that no team trades two cornerstone offensive players unless management and the coaching staff believe the dressing room will be a better place.
Pronger addressed the issue of dressing-room chemistry and pointed out that no one seemed to think there was much of an issue in 2009-10, when the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup finals.
"I don't think anybody would say a year ago when we went to the Stanley Cup final that there was a chemistry problem," Pronger said. "Last year, you're coming off a tough defeat in the Stanley Cup final in overtime, we got off to a good start, and nobody seemed to think we had a problem then. As the season wore on, for whatever reason, we just didn't turn that corner and continue to get better and peak at the right time. That's disappointing, and it's tough. I don't think there was necessarily a rift; I think we just needed more life in the locker room.
"It all has to do with your play on the ice. If you're playing well on the ice, there's never any questions as to who's doing what, or is there a rift, does this guy like that guy, and all of the rest of the stuff that gets thrown out. If you play well on the ice, nobody wants to write about that because everything's going good."
But there were issues with Richards on and off the ice over the past few seasons. There were periods when he wouldn't speak to reporters, national or local. This past postseason, the Flyers struggled to beat Buffalo in seven games in the first round and were then swept by Boston in the second round. Richards had just one goal in 11 playoff games.
Carter, too, has struggled with injuries and playoff production during his time in Philadelphia.
Carter and Richards signed long-term deals within the past few years and fully expected to spend the balance of their careers in Philadelphia. They also had no-movement clauses that were set to kick in next summer.
This isn't to suggest Carter and Richards cost the Flyers a chance at a Stanley Cup. The goaltending was woeful in the 2010 Cup finals and during the 2011 playoffs. Pronger was hurt and played in just three games. Still, it is clear Holmgren has moved to change the culture of the Flyers' locker room and give his team the best chance to win a championship for the first time since 1975.
"I haven't put the X's and O's together. I'm sure you guys have looked at it seven ways from Sunday and tried to figure out who wins or loses," Pronger said. "At the end of the day ... having been traded a number of times, it's always difficult. They both played their hearts out in Philly, but sometimes, as I said, you've got to make tough decisions and you've got to make moves, and sometimes it may hurt and may feel like you're making your team worse to make it better."
If there was any doubt about whose team the Philadelphia Flyers were before Thursday's blockbuster trades of Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards, there shouldn't be now.