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What Shea Weber’s offer sheet says about Chris Pronger (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

Lots to discuss as a result of Philadelphia signing Shea Weber to an offer sheet reportedly worth about $110 million over the next 14 seasons.

For instance, what does this say of the hipocrisy of ownership crying poor while handing out three $100-plus million dollar contracts in the course of two weeks or so? Where does this leave the small-market Nashville Predators, who assured everyone they'd have the money available to sign Weber and Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne and Alex Radulov? And indeed, where does it leave Rinne, who's now signed in Nashville through 2019 and will likely have neither Suter nor Weber playing in front of him as he did in the first four seasons he spent as Nashville's starter?

Will Weber sign with the Flyers or will Nashville swallow the poison pill of having to pay him almost a quarter of the money owed him over that 14-year deal in less than a year? If Nashville doesn't match, are they really going to let the best defenseman of his generation go for four late-first-round picks? And what will that do for the already-elite Atlantic Division?

Lots to mull over, but one thing that seems sadly overlooked, perhaps because it's been considered an eventuality for some time, is that Philadelphia pursuing defensive help for a player of Weber's caliber at that cost more or less officially closes the book on Chris Pronger's NHL career.

There probably won't be the loving plaudits for Pronger that rained down upon Nicklas Lidstrom a few months ago for two reasons. First, Lidstrom is pretty much the second-best defenseman of all time so it's tough to adequately praise him. But second, where Lidstrom was universally beloved, Pronger wasn't ever going to be especially popular with most people around the league, specifically because, at any one time, there were 29 teams for which he didn't play. You hear quite often that there are some guys in the league you hate to play against, but would love to have on your team. Pronger, perhaps more than anyone else in the league in the last decade, epitomized that quality.

Simply put, he was an absolute jerk. And a delightful one. Stealing pucks after Stanley Cup Final games and doing funny interviews were part of the deal, as was explaining how physics works differently for him because he is tall. The latter was also a perfect example of his being one of those "borderline players" who routinely crossed that line, elbowing opponents in the face and suspended by the league seven times in the last 12 years. Big, mean, punishing. Most nights, players probably didn't want to come across the blue line on Pronger, even with their heads up. They knew he would try to check them through a wall.

But if Pronger was that one-dimensional, he'd be counted among other equally physical, intimdating defensemen of his era — and there were many — and nothing more. Instead, Pronger was a transcendent talent in attack as well. Nine of his 18 seasons in the league saw him finish with 45 or more points, often despite his having played fewer than the full 82-game slate. Not exactly easy when the bulk of those seasons came during the Dead Puck Era. In fact, since Pronger began his career in 1993-94, only Nicklas Lidstrom (15) put up 45 or more in a season with greater frequency (Rob Blake and Sergei Gonchar both tied).

But more than that, Pronger was very demonstrably the thing that prompts most sportswriters to dot the I's in players names with hearts: He could, seemingly through sheer force of will, make teams great. He dragged both the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers, more or less by the hair, to Stanley Cup Finals they had no right appearing in (They finished with 95 and 88 points, respectively, so let's not confuse the issue that these were magically wonderful teams. Both tied for seventh in their conferences. You see my point.)

Since leaving St. Louis after the lockout, Pronger brought his three teams to the Stanley Cup Final in each of his first years in those cities, and won one on that superteam in Anaheim in 2007. The Oilers missed the playoffs two of the three years before acquiring Pronger, and did so again in every season the second he skipped town. The Ducks, obviously, bombed out of the Conference Finals the year prior but have made the playoffs just once in the three seasons since Pronger left. The Flyers went from decent enough to one of the best teams in the conference. None of this is coincidence.

It is ironic that a concussion will lead to the end of such a wonderful career, since Pronger likely doled out several over the course of it. He was often overshadowed by other dominant defensemen of his day: Lidstrom, obviously, but also Bourque, Niedermayer,  Blake, and Chara. Nonetheless, he won gold at the 1993 World Junior Champions, the 1997 World Championships, and both the 2002 and 2010 Olympics, as well as a Stanley Cup. He's one of only 10 players in hockey history to win all four of those tournaments, and the list of the others that did it isn't bad either. He also won a Hart Trophy and, somehow, absurdly, only one Norris.

Shea Weber is a lot of things, including the second-best defenseman in the league. But they just don't make defensemen like Chris Pronger any more. That's probably a good thing for his opponents, but it's sad for fans of hockey.

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And here's the tragedy for Rinne

Right now, I feel legitimately awful for Pekka Rinne, who was assured his team would be able to spend the money to retain the two world-class defensemen behind whom he's played his entire career.

He himself is obviously a world-class goaltender, but it's hard to know just how much easier Weber and Suter made his job on a nightly basis, and how much better they made him look. Both played more than 26 minutes a night last season, and have been averaging more than 23 for the last four seasons. It goes without saying that without them, the Nashville defense simply doesn't work as well as it has.

To wit: this chart. The Preds' cornerstone D-men were two of the three Predators regulars — if you include Ryan Ellis' 32-game stint last season — who posted positive relative corsi rates last season. Those that were sheltered against strong opponents bobbed along substandardly. Those who faced difficult competition drowned. If Weber does indeed sign in Philadelphia instead of Nashville, the Predators' theoretical top pairing is Kevin Klein and Roman Josi. Maybe Hal Gill just for a little veteran stability.

That's not pretty, and probably enough to make Rinne seriously regret that extension.

Pearls of Biz-dom

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