Monday, July 3, 2006 Updated: July 5, 3:44 PM ET
No feel-good aftershocks to Pronger's family-first trade
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
Guess Mrs. Pronger prefers traffic snarls and earthquakes to frostbite and deep-fried dill pickles.
So long North Saskatchewan River, hello Huntingdon Beach.
Does all this have an uncomfortably personal feel to it? Maybe.
Chris Pronger said during a Monday conference call that his reasons for a trade were no one's business but his own.
But Chris Pronger and, by extension his wife, Lauren, made all of this personal with their shocking demand to be traded from the Stanley Cup finalist Edmonton Oilers in the hours after the Oil came within a whisker of winning it all. The wish was granted Monday, when Anaheim GM Brian Burke sent emerging star and Edmonton native Joffrey Lupul, top prospect Ladislav Smid and a handful of draft picks to the Oilers for the former Hart and Norris trophies winner.
No wonder Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe demanded Lupul. At least Lupul, whose grandfather is part of the Oilers' ownership group, knows what he's in for in the NHL's most northerly franchise, unlike, it seems, the Prongers.
Not that the Prongers are really saying much about why they've fled the City of Champions like it was that leper colony in Papillon.
It is, Pronger said in a conference call Monday afternoon, really none of our business. And really, unless you're a die-hard Oilers fan or a GM who now wakes up in dire fear that his own superstar will get a case of "the Laurens," it is hard not to applaud Pronger for doing what he feels is right for his family, which includes two young children.
But it's all so perplexing.
The Oilers were the poster team for the new NHL when they acquired Pronger from St. Louis and promptly signed him to the five-year deal. Now, they appear to have taken a step back in time, forced to give up a player they desperately wanted to keep just like the old days before the salary cap.
As for Pronger, he seemed so comfortable in his role as the face of the Oilers on their run to the finals. For the first time in his career, Pronger both fit and spoke the part of NHL superstar as though he was born to it.
Sadly, for everyone involved, it wasn't enough (or too much), whatever it was.
And so, less than a year after Pronger gushed about the excitement at playing for the first time as an NHLer in Canada, the Pronger family is loading up on the suntan lotion and headed to the West Coast.
Think Beverly Hillbillies but with nicer wheels.
Multiple sources told ESPN.com the issue was simple -- Pronger's wife couldn't bear to spend another hockey season in Edmonton.
Pronger alluded to as much Monday, saying he and his family had a discussion at the end of the season and that this was the direction in which they wanted to go.
"At the end of the day, it was something we felt was needed as a family," Pronger said.
Actually, according to Lowe, the situation had been percolating since midseason, when Pronger's agent Pat Morris told Lowe there were problems. No trade was requested at the time and Lowe hoped the team's playoff surge would help smooth whatever troubled waters roiled beneath the surface.
"Generally, when the hockey's good, everything is good. But that wasn't the case," Lowe said Monday.
And so, fresh from the team's most successful run in 16 years, Lowe set about trying dispatch the team's best player.
Lowe could have kept Pronger, of course, personal issues or not.
At $6.25 million a year for the next four years, Pronger has become a terrific bargain. He is, for instance, $1 million a year cheaper than the biggest free-agent signing thus far, new Boston blue-liner Zdeno Chara, and immeasurably more important a player.
Lowe insisted he could have dipped into the free-agent frenzy of the past three days for a defenseman, but believed the asking price for the plethora of elite defensemen was too high. Still, there is the distinct impression the Pronger deal is either three days too late or eight months too early in terms of getting maximum value from a deal where full value is a pipe dream.
Certainly, this deal would be a lot easier to swallow for Oilers fans if Edmonton had been able to sign Chara or Ed Jovanovski or Willie Mitchell or Pavel Kubina or Filip Kuba or Nicklas Lidstrom, or heck, even Hal Gill or Aaron Ward. All of those were unrestricted free agents at noon ET Saturday. All are off the market now.
How, then, does Lowe fill the monstrous hole along the Oilers' blue line left by Pronger's departure? He doesn't. Plain and simple.
Even if Smid does play, as Lowe expects, perhaps he should have hung onto Pronger at least until the trade deadline next March. But that, like the entire messy situation, was a no-win. Lowe said Monday he wanted no part of having Pronger and the distraction his presence would have meant at the start of the season. And there were no guarantees he'd have been any better off trying to move him in-season.
"What if she doesn't like California?" one person close to the trade asked rhetorically Monday afternoon.
Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, the man with the golden touch in the past year, having fashioned a Stanley Cup contender out of some raw diamonds, one superstar and some old parts, is banking a considerable portion of the Ducks' future that Lauren Pronger, et al. will love it. Not only did Burke part with Lupul, whose 28 goals were third among the Ducks behind Teemu Selanne and Andy McDonald, he also gave up defensive prospect Smid, the ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft, the Ducks' first-round pick next season, a conditional first-round pick and the Ducks' second-round pick in 2008.
If Burke's assumption that the California climate and lifestyle will agree with the Prongers (the lack of minus-30 degree days should be a good start), the big man's addition to a blue line that already features perennial Norris Trophy candidate Scott Niedermayer makes the Ducks an early pick to top the Western Conference. Indeed, Pronger's play in the playoffs, where many believe he should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, suggests the Ducks are now the early favorites to advance to the 2007 Cup finals.
Of course, if Burke's wrong, if Mrs. Pronger, a St. Louis-area native, finds the West Coast disagreeable, it's entirely possible Burke will face the gut-wrenching decision Lowe confronted in these past few days.
Not that the Pronger situation is unique. Players want out of situations all the time.
Sometimes it's a conflict with a coach. Sometimes it's missing family back in Europe. Last summer, Dany Heatley asked Atlanta GM Don Waddell to move him, citing the emotional burden of playing in the city where a car crash took the life of teammate Dan Snyder and nearly ended Heatley's career.
Gary Roberts recently asked Florida GM Mike Keenan to trade him back to Toronto for family reasons.
Pronger said Monday it was no different than a player getting traded in the middle of a contract to another team. But that's not exactly accurate.
Part of the reason teams pay players big dollars is to gain control over their professional careers. Sometimes that means trading them for a variety of reasons. That's part of the business.
Sometimes players become as important as Pronger was to the Oilers and are offered no-trade clauses, which mean they have the right to veto or OK any trade the team might want to make.
What is generally not part of the business is forcing the team that owns your contract to trade you, especially not a player at the peak of his game like Pronger.
In speaking for his family first, Pronger has altered the course of history for the Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks. Whatever happens going forward that will be part of his legacy -- earthquakes and all.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.