Chris Pronger: Conn Smythe Worthy? Absolutely!

May 26th, 2010 No Comments

It’s always very tough predicting the Conn Smythe Trophy winner before the Stanley Cup Finals are over, yet here I am, about to type out a very bold prediction. That’s right folks, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger is going to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player to his team in the playoffs—and here’s why…

First off, without question, given their terrific efforts throughout the playoffs there is/are more than one player worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy. Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews seems to be the odds-on favorite with Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith and Hawks goaltender Antti Niemi getting serious consideration as well.

On the Flyers side, a case could be made for Captain Mike Richards (who has been tremendous), and, before he got injured, goaltender Brian Boucher was a serious candidate.

As much as I have admired the hard work, leadership, grit and scoring prowess of the Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and the Flyers Mike Richards I still feel Pronger is more worthy of the award.

Heading into the playoffs there was no other NHL team with bigger questions on defense and in between the pipes than the Philadelphia Flyers. Pronger, while not singlehandedly responsible for the Flyers defensive/goaltending turnaround, has played a significant role.

Through seventeen games Pronger leads all NHL defensemen with 14 points. Pronger has scored four times, of which, three have been on the power play. Averaging 28:48 per night, Pronger leads all NHL players in Time On Ice. Pronger also leads all players in Shifts Per Game at 34.8.

The fact is, the Flyers have been playing with just four defensemen for quite sometime now, Pronger’s contributions and near perfect play allows Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to do this. How many players are dominant enough that your coach forgets about an entire defensive pairing come playoff time?

Now, I will be the first to admit that Toews has some nice numbers of his own. Toews leads all NHL players in playoff points with 26, assists (19), power play goals (5), is ranked third overall with three game winning goals and Toews has played a major physical role for the Hawks to boot!

On closer inspection I noted that Toews scored just two of his seven goals five-on-five…just two of his seven goals have come five-on-five, really? That means five of his seven goals have come on the power play—debate amongst yourselves…Is that Conn Smythe worthy?

Clearly, there is more to winning the Conn Smythe than just scoring goals and Toews has accomplished plenty away from just scoring goals.

What we need to ask is this—Has Toews been dominant? and, has Toews been the most dominant/most valuable player to his team?

Overall, I think it’s safe to say that Toews has been dominant, but I would hesitate in saying that Toews has been the most valuable player to his team, or at least, not as valuable as Pronger has been to the Flyers.

In the end, you need to look beyond the numbers to get a full picture as to a players real value to their team—statistics are nice and all, but they do not always tell the whole story, right?

While Toews numbers and contributions are impressive I believe Pronger has been the more valuable player to his team.

Riddle me this? Which team has allowed more goals this off-season—the Philadelphia Flyers or the Chicago Blackhawks?

Ready….and the answer is: despite playing an extra game (the Flyers played 17 games to the Blackhawks 16) the Flyers have allowed less goals than the Hawks—true story!

During the regular season the Hawks were ranked sixth overall in goals against. Comparatively, the Flyers were ranked 15th overall in goals against—quite an improvement during these playoffs, huh? Think Pronger had anything to do with that? Hell yeah!

Here’s another tidbit of information for you—as dominant as the Blackhawks have been offensively, the Flyers (admittedly, with the benefit of one extra game) have actually outscored the Hawks by one goal (54-53).

The Flyers have also outscored the Hawks in five-on-five situations (32-31), five-on-four situations (14-12) and, while not boasting a better goals per game average, were just 0.13 percentage points away from the Hawks (3.31-3.18).

Why point this out? Well, for starters, there seems to be this perception that the Hawks are this offensive juggernaut, which is not entirely true when copmpared to the Flyers.

When you consider the Flyers and Blackhawks overall scoring numbers, they are all but equal—yet the Flyers get very little respect/credit for what they have accomplished offensively.

Now, before this article begins to look more like a team comparative versus a player versus player comparative, let’s look at some of Pronger’s strong points.

Given the strong performances of both Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton in between the pipes for the Flyers not all of the accolades can be thrown Pronger’s way. That said, given Pronger’s overall minutes, number of shifts, physical play in his own zone and tremendous play in all situations (power play, shorthanded, against the opposing teams best players) a lot of that praise should be directed at Pronger.

Riddle me this? Without Pronger in front of the Flyers net clearing the crease and allowing both Boucher and Leighton to see the puck, would either one of these goalies have been so effective? Not a chance!

Pronger’s tough physical play in front of the Flyers net (playing nearly half of every game) is the main reason Boucher and Leighton have played so well. Simply put, opposing players were not getting secondary chances to score—that’s huge for any NHL goalie!

When a goaltender can see the puck he typically makes the save. Also, when a goalie is seeing the puck they are also gaining a huge amount of confidence and they are far more able to control rebounds—rebounds that typically get buried into the twine by opposing snipers.

Further, Pronger’s ability to stretch opposing teams with his strong first pass (stretch pass) has been instrumental to Philadelphia’s success—both offensively and defensively.

Pronger’s ability to clear the zone both quickly and with precision gives his defensive partners and goaltenders a better chance at shutting down opposing offenses AND sets the tone for the Flyers offense, which, as I pointed out earlier, has been the equal of the Hawks.

Finally, despite not wearing the “C” on his chest, something must be said for Pronger’s leadership—which has been very apparent throughout the playoffs.

Now, nobody is saying Toews has demonstrated poor leadership, but Toews never had to overcome a 3-0 series deficit (which, yes, can be viewed both ways), Pronger has and he responded flawlessly—showing poise, dealing with the media and playing all those heavy minutes.

At the end of the day there would be no shame in losing the Conn Smythe Trophy to Toews. Both Toews and Pronger have been instrumental to their teams success, both players have executed beautifully.

Personally, (note the underline), I feel defense is a lot tougher to play (especially in the playoffs) than offense. Every shift for a defenseman is do-or-die, every situation another opportunity for failure, all of this with a defensive unit that was ranked 15th overall during the regular season.

Pronger’s physical play has never been better. Pronger’s offensive play has never been crisper. Pronger’s leadership has never been more apparent and Pronger’s defensive play has never been more important to his teams success.

As good as Toews has been—and the kid has been extremely dominant— Pronger has been the more valuable player to his team.

The definition of a Conn Smythe Trophy winner is (courtesy of Wikipedia) “The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded annually to the player judged most valuable to his team during the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

For that reason, and the many I have listed above, Pronger should be the front runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy, wouldn’t you agree?

Until next time,

Peace!

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