Chris Pronger was to the black-and-orange born. For the franchise that in 2008 adopted Vengeance Now as a slogan—apparently in Philadelphia, retribution delayed is retribution denied—the acquisition last Friday of a stellar defenseman who was voted (along with Dallas's Steve Ott) the NHL's dirtiest player in a recent SI poll of 324 of his colleagues provides a new gap-toothed face. Pronger, who could be the Flyers' best all-around defenseman since Mark Howe in the 1980s, has been suspended as often as disbelief. There've been six regular-season bans (the longest for eight games in '07--08) and two one-game sit-downs in the '07 playoffs, when, generally, nothing short of a felony will get a player in trouble. (Both of Pronger's postseason sins were hits to the head.)
"He fits [there]," says Ducks G.M. Bob Murray, who traded Pronger for 25-goal scorer Joffrey Lupul, 19-year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa (Philly's top pick last year), the No. 21 pick in last Friday's draft and a first-round pick in 2010.
The Flyers' move was prodded at least in part by the Stanley Cup--champion Penguins, who have raised the bar in the Eastern Conference. The road to the Cup for the Flyers is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the intimidating 6'6" Pronger immediately becomes the shutdown (and, considering the on-ice loquaciousness of Sidney Crosby, shut-up) defenseman against Pittsburgh's gamboling forwards.
"They've added a guy who's physical, who plays in every situation and who's a power-play guy," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma says. "That's pretty substantial."
As Philly G.M. Paul Holmgren observed, the 34-year-old Pronger fills the role of "a hammer ... a guy who makes life miserable for the other team." In grabbing a former MVP and Norris Trophy winner, the punishing Flyers reminded the NHL that they wouldn't have it any other way.