Chris Pronger is an intriguing figure in many reasons, his departure from Edmonton being one of them. What is also interesting about Pronger is that he has been traded 4 times, the first being in 1995. Before we get into these transactions and look at them critically, let’s ask ourselves the question, What is Chris Pronger?
Well what is he? He’s a puck-moving defenseman, and a damn good one at that. He’s a tough defenseman as well, someone who can rack up both penalty minutes AND play against the opposition’s best players. In short, he’s can do everything expected of a defenseman: contribute offensively, play solid defensively and play tough. These types of defensemen never go out of style.
If you were a GM and you acquiring a player like this was within your means, would you act on it? We all would. You could almost say that the demand for a player like Pronger, with his skill set, is inelastic. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in the league, a player like him will always command legitimate trade value.
Trade # 1
Pronger’s first trade happened on July 27 1995 when he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues [Pronger having been drafted 2nd overall in 1993 by the Hartford Whalers] for Brendan Shanahan. At this time, Pronger was 22 years old and coming off a season in which he scored 14 points in 43 games [the strike-shortened season of 1994-95] for the non-playoff-bound Hartford Whalers. Shanahan on the other hand was more experienced at 25 years old, and having a stellar NHL career. At this young an age Shanahan already had 520 points in 558 games. On paper it looks like it was a HUGE win for the Whalers in this trade, but it was not. Pronger went on to play 9 seasons in St. Louis, Shanahan went on to play 76 games in Hartford.
Chris Pronger, at this point, was a young defenseman with potential. He commanded an established NHL scorer in the trade market. A player who had played just 124 games, and just 44 points [and 44 PIM's], was worth a player with 558 NHL games under his belt and 520 points.
So, in theory this trade states that in the off-season of 1994-95:
124 GP, 44 PT, 22 year old defenseman=558 GP, 520 PT, 25 year old forward.
Due to the nature of supply and demand [high supply=low demand, low supply=high demand], defensemen will always have a higher trade value than forwards. There are 6 of them in a game, compared to 12 forwards, and they generally log more ice time than forwards. The theory of supply and demand helps explain why the 22-year old Pronger commanded such a high trade value. At the trade deadline, every team within earshot of the playoffs is looking for one main thing: blueline depth.
Trade # 2
Pronger’s second trade was from St. Louis, where he emerged as a bona fide star, to Edmonton during the post-lockout months. By this point, Pronger had already won the Norris Trophy [NHL's top defenseman], the Hart Trophy [MVP] and had been named an all-star four times. The only difference from the last time he was traded was that Pronger was now 32 and had already lived up to the hype. A player like this would surely get more than Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch, right?
Brewer was an ex-Canadian Olympian who had won Gold at the Salt Lake City Games. In Brewer, the Blues acquired a suitable replacement for their departed all-star who was still relatively young at 25 years old. In his final season with the Oilers, Brewer posted respectable numbers with 25 points and a -6 rating on a non-playoff team. By contrast, Pronger’s last season in Missouri saw him score 54 points.
Jeff Woywitka was the second piece of the deal going to St. Louis. Billed as a big two-way defenseman when drafted 27th overall by Philadelphia, he was dealt to Edmonton as part of the Mike Comrie trade. The Oilers were looking for established puck-moving defensemen at this point [as seen by the Pronger acquisition, and Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom mid-season]. Woywitka was still a solid prospect at this point, coming off a 26-point, 84 PIM season with the Edmonton Roadrunners of the AHL. All three defensemen the Oilers gave up were 25 years old or younger.
Lynch was the final piece of the deal. A 2nd round pick [32nd overall] and captain of his junior team [where he played with Woywitka], he was projected to be a similar type of defenseman.
In the aftermath, Woywitka played 86 games for the Blues, registering 35 points. Lynch never suited up for the Blues. Eric Brewer, meanwhile, is still with the Blues and their team captain.
If we evaluate the trade based solely on the names going back and forth, Edmonton won this deal hands down. Acquiring a player of Pronger’s calibre for the mere price of Brewer and two prospects is nothing short of a steal. However if we evaluate based on stability and longevity, St. Louis comes out on top. Eric Brewer is still an integral part of their team and organization, and well we all know what happened with Chris Pronger in Edmonton.
It’s fair to say then that, looking at the first 2 trades involving Pronger, that the return on trade #1 was far better than the return on trade #2.
Brendan Shanahan [558 GP, 244 G, 276 A] > Eric Brewer [404 GP, 122 PTS] + Doug Lynch [2 GP, 0 PTS] + Jeff Woywitka [No NHL Experience]
When he was first dealt, Pronger was a hyped young defenseman who had not proved anything, and yet he commanded one of the NHL’s better young players in Shanahan. When Pronger became established and had proven himself to be one of the league’s premier players, his trade value…went down? It sure looks like it. In this trade Edmonton won short-term [Pronger guiding them to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals], but St. Louis won long-term [Brewer still being part of the organization].
What does this tell us? The value of young defensemen on the trade market is very very great. Eric Brewer alone would never land Pronger, but with two young defensemen with size [both being over 6" and 200 lbs] the Oilers were able to land him. Another thing is that hype, at least in this case, commanded more than results. The hyped, unproven Pronger at 22 years old commanded more than the 32 year old proven veteran with a Norris and Hart Trophy under his belt. The hyped, unproven Woywitka and Doug Lynch commanded Pronger. Not a coincidence.
Young players > Old players
By these parameters, players such as Jeff Petry and Alex Plante have a much higher trade value than initially thought. If a young defenseman [or two] can net a 25 year old forward with 500 NHL points [a la Shanahan], or a stud NHL defenseman [a la Pronger], shouldn’t a team focus more on drafting defenseman and barter them for better assets later on?
The third trade of Pronger’s career was…a little messy let’s say. Going to the Oilers were 2 first round picks [one being conditional], a 2nd round pick, Joffrey Lupul and Ladislav Smid. Pronger was still the same player he was the previous summer when he was dealt to Edmonton: a great all-round defenseman, only one year older. The return on Pronger the Oilers obtained was far greater than what they gave up.
2 first round picks [one conditional] + 2nd round pick + Joffrey Lupul + Ladislav Smid > Eric Brewer + Jeff Woywitka + Doug Lynch
After a season in which Pronger put the Oilers on his back and guided the team to the brink of a championship, his value went up exponentially. Any GM would choose the package the Oilers received over the package the Oilers gave up. By this standard alone, Kevin Lowe deserves a pat on the back. After the entire Pronger fiasco, the Oilers made out like bandits.
What did the Oilers receive for Pronger? Joffrey Lupul [a 24 year old forward coming off a 53-point sophomore season], Ladislav Smid [2004 1st round pick], and draft picks.
Trade # 4
After guiding the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup, Pronger was dealt for likely the last time, this time to the Philadelphia Flyers. He along with Ryan Dingle were traded for Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul, 2 first round picks and another conditional draft choice. Again, young forward + young defenseman + draft picks=Chris Pronger. Again, Pronger’s value went up, this time because he won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim. This time the only difference was that Pronger earned another draft pick for the team that dealt him [Anaheim]. Winning a Stanley Cup will do that for ya.
Brendan Shanahan = Jeff Woywitka + Doug Lynch + Eric Brewer = Joffrey Lupul + Ladislav Smid + first round draft pick + conditional first round pick + 2nd round pick = Luca Sbisa + Joffrey Lupul + 2 first round picks + conditional draft pick = Chris Pronger
25 year old 500-point scorer = 2 defensive prospects + 25-year old top-4 defenseman = young forward + young defenseman + first round pick + conditional first round pick + 2nd round pick = young defenseman + young forward + 2 first round picks + conditional draft pick = Chris Pronger
Conventional wisdom suggests that of all the returns gained via Pronger, the best return was the 500-point, 25 year old forward Brendan Shanahan [not taking into account Shanahan's career with Hartford]. Pronger’s value was highest when he was the youngest. He lived up to the hype, but his value dropped off [believe it or not] as he got older. Two things this tells us:
-the value of young defensemen is ENORMOUS [Pronger, Woywitka, Lynch]
-young players > old players
-Emotional reasoning > logical reasoning [at least in Pronger's case]
By these reasonings, should teams focus on drafting and developing defensemen, and then trading them for a higher profit? At this point the market sure values young defensemen A LOT.
Until next time hockey enthusiasts,