I had a long and sometimes heated discussion with SWMBO last night regarding Mr. Pronger and his family.
Basically, she felt I was blowing it way out of proportion, and that I was expecting way too much of Pronger.
My argument was that while I don't feel he did anything *wrong*, he could have done things *better*. It looks bad to have the agent make the request while you're out of town. Lowe knew something was wrong but hoped it would go away, or so he said. Nobody is saying much of any substance, least of all Pronger who has been reported to be, variously, vacationing in Mexico, in Saint Louis, or talking to Gretzky and Janet Jones in LA to see how to handle going from hero to zero in a split second. (OK, I made that last bit up.)
As an example, I used to run a business in another town and had several fairly good clients. When I figured it was time to move on and blow town, I first went around to them and introduced them to the guy I was "selling" the business to (quotes are for a reason, and it's a long story, but not germane to this). I told them I was leaving town, and why. In this case it was a reason nobody could really fault me for, it's because I got engaged to somebody who couldn't leave the town she was in. I reassured them that the warranties on the computers I'd sold them would be honoured, and that I would stay in touch with the fellow who took over in case of troubles. I owed these people nothing in the way of explanation; that's just how I think a professional should act, so that's what I did. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm not exactly brimming with false modesty, but to me that was nothing special, really - just how one should conduct oneself. Had the reason been more private or something I wasn't comfortable sharing, I would have told them that too - "I'm blowing town for personal and professional reasons," and left it at that. Had they asked, it would have been "Sorry, it's private," and that would have been that.
I see no reason why Chris Pronger could not have said the same thing. Players call press conferences all the time; it could have been joint with the team as well. I don't believe the "professional" reasons bit, unless he hated his contract and hated playing so much and so well and making it to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe he hates MacTavish or Lowe, although it doesn't seem that way. So no, don't buy the professional reasons. Personal? OK, maybe his wife hates it in Edmonton. Many do. Maybe his kids (does he have any?) were suffering at school. Maybe it's a billion other reasons - who knows. I don't even particularly want to know. But I would have liked to have heard it from him. Even if all he has to say is "Sorry guys, it's been great and I loved it here, but I have to move on for personal reasons, and I won't tell you what they are because it's none of your beeswax," I would have been satisfied. Not *happy*, but satisfied that he'd behaved in a manner befitting somebody who undoubtedly had 10 year old kids - just like I used to be and just like he used to be - buying or having bought for them \$100 jerseys (the purchase of which he gets a percentage of, let us not forget) with his name on the back. His name. His number.
Linda doesn't buy that a person in a role such as Chris Pronger owes the fans anything by way of explanation. I don't disagree, not entirely. He doesn't *owe* it. Nobody does. He doesn't *have* to do or say anything at all. He could even hold a press conference at which all he did was utter obscenities and give everybody there the finger until they all left, and it wouldn't be wrong in the sense that he should go to jail or be kicked out of the NHLPA or what have you. (It'd make him a big giant poopyface though.) But by choosing to leave town the way he did, without saying a word til he was safely out of range, he showed a lack of respect for the fans who pay his bills, and I think he showed a lack of respect for the team as well. I doubt very much that his teammates had any idea that he was going to just up and leave (although at least a few of them must have known that not everything was happy go lucky there).
I assume that Lowe does know the real reasons, but he's not telling, and he hasn't told anybody else either, else we'd know about it - whatever the story is, it must be so juicy that somebody - anybody, a secretary, an assistant, the janitor who overheard the telephone conversation, the IT guy that saw an email bounce back, whatever - would have spilled the beans, even if only to say "look what I knew before any of you guys did, neener!" So, whatever it is, Lowe knows and can't tell because otherwise everybody will know, but he still has to try to trade this guy while getting maximal return, without being able to tell the other GM very much at all. He can't say "Chris will only play for teams x, y, and z" because then his offers will drop drastically, and he'd be lucky to get Reasoner for Prongs, never mind Horacek and Hecht. He can't say "Prongs will play anywhere but Edmonton," because, well, it makes Pronger look like a dick. There's the question of why did he sign such a long-term contract if he or his family had the slightest doubt about a move. And so on. So he's stiffed his GM whether he meant to or not, and if I was one of his teammates I'd have a lot of questions too, both for Lowe and Pronger himself.
The question of what happens if Lowe can't or won't trade him this summer comes up too. I don't have an answer to that one, but I have a few more questions. I know what will happen is he will report for training camp, if he wants the slightest chance at all of getting what he wants. If he has any thoughts in his mind that Lowe would let him get away with that, he should call up Mike Comrie in Phoenix to ask how that worked out for him. (Funny, Comrie was traded to Philly for Woywitka+, and Woywitka went to St. Louis in the deal that brought the Prongers to Edmonton.) He won't have a legal or moral leg to stand on - Lowe has no obligation to honour the trade request, although I've no doubt in my mind that he will, as long as Pronger plays it straight. Legally, well, he signed a contract agreeing to play for the Oilers for 5 seasons, in return the Oilers would pay him 6.25 million dollars per season. I'm sure it was a lot longer and more involved than that, but I'd be surprised if that's not what it essentially boiled down to. So if he refuses to play, Edmonton would have a pretty good case for suing him, I would expect, plus while I expect he'd be able to sign a contract elsewhere once it was all over - he's too good to just let rot - no GM would trust him farther than I could throw him.
Therefore, unless I'm very very wrong (and I'm willing to admit that I could be), if Pronger doesn't change teams this summer, he'll be reporting to training camp in September and taking to the ice in October. I have not the slightest shred of doubt in my mind about the reception he'll get when his name is announced, never mind when his skates hit the ice. Gretzky, Messier, and Weight got one game grace before they got booed. After that, it was merciless - with a few exceptions, like the night Gretz set a record against the Oil, those guys knew they were playing in a *former* team's home town. I suspect the crowd at NorthSkyRexall Coliseum would boo Queen Elizabeth herself, if she stepped onto the ice wearing the wrong-coloured jersey. How effective can a guy be when he's booed by the home crowd every time he touches the puck? I don't know, but you could ask Patrice Brisebois what Montreal was like. A bit "closer" to home, you could ask Jason Arnott or Tom Poti. It can't help his game, and it would be a major distraction for the team. Lowe absolutely must trade Pronger this off-season, there's no question in my mind.
I've no idea what sort of return Lowe will get. It ought to be at least a decent one. Lowe turned Hamrlik and Comrie into Brewer and Woywitka into Pronger. (Hm, although maybe the Hammer trade was Sather?) He turned Guerin into Carter and Hemsky. Niinimaa was moved for Isbister and Torres; Janne hasn't been the same since, and while Izzy was a disappointment, Torres has covered that bet so far. Reasoner and Stastny for a few months of Samsonov was worth it, even if Sammy did mostly disappear in the last 10 games or so of the playoffs. I have faith that whatever deal Lowe comes up with will be a good one - maybe not necessarily the best one offered, but it'll work out well in the end. I won't go into the rumours, since the other weblogs are doing a good job of those, but some of them are pretty juicy, even if a bit unrealistic. OK, just one, my favourite - Philadelphia. Names being bandied about are Pitkanen, Carter, Richards, and Gagne. Any two of those guys would make me relatively pleased, especially if one was Gagne. I don't know really why Clarke does that trade, he's already got lots of older dmen with big contracts, but never mind that - with the salary cap going up 5m, that almost covers Pronger's contract anyway, and Philadelphia's never been shy about spending money.
I've said in comments, here and elsewhere (as recently as this evening!) that I wasn't sure how, exactly, I felt. I'm pretty sure I know now. I'm disappointed that my judgement of Pronger's character was apparently a bit lacking. The fan in me disappointed that Edmonton will no longer have the services of a man who is, unarguably, one of the 10 best defencemen in the world right now, and likely is one of the top 5. The hockey watcher in me is disappointed that I won't get to see him work some more magic with a hipcheck or a slapshot, at least not in the midnight blue and copper. The vindictive part of me hopes he does get traded to Chicago, a terrible team with a not very bright immediate future and ownership who apparently don't care much about hockey. The part of me that basically wants to like every human being, even if I generally hate humanity, thinks it's too bad that anybody has to go through what Chris Pronger and his family are going through now, and will undoubtedly continue to be going through for some time. They are PNGed in a place they called home, however briefly, and in a rink in which he played extremely well for 50-some games. I'm sure he's burned some bridges with the Oilers players themselves, even if they'll never say so publicly, and he bled with them for more games than I'm sure any of them thought they'd realistically be playing in one season. Two of them are ex-Olympics teammates, so they've played that much more again together - although I don't think the cards are right for Michael Peca to return to Edmonton either. He's sacrificed a lot, whether he gets any credit for it from the Oilers fanatics. I just hope that, in the end, it's worth it for him.
And that's all I've got to say about that. Although, I reserve the right to comment on the trade, when it happens.