First of all, I can't believe I have to write this column. The fact that knowledgeable hockey fans can look at the following trade:
#1 pick in 2007
#2 pick in 2008
...and come to the conclusion that the team getting a prospect, three picks and Lupul is the one that won the trade is beyond me.
There is an old saying that the team that gets the best player in a trade is the one that wins the trade. Well, the Ducks clearly got the best player in this trade. Granted, we have to see who the Oilers draft with those picks but the odds that any of those three players will be a Hall of Famer who wins a Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy and Olympic Gold Medal before the age of 30 are overwhelming small.
Consider, as well, the fact that the #1 pick in 2007 is almost certainly going to be pick #20 or later. Now, let's look back at the players taken at #20 or later in the first round of the draft between 2000 and 2004:
2000 NHL Entry Draft (picks 20-30)
2001 NHL Entry Draft (picks 20-30)
2002 NHL Entry Draft (picks 20-30)
2003 NHL Entry Draft (picks 20-30)
2004 NHL Entry Draft (picks 20-30)
Why pick just 2000-2004? Well, I wanted to get a recent history but not too recent as it's not fair to expect guys drafted in 2005 to have already made a mark in the NHL. That being said, let's see what we have. Of these 55 players there are two that I would say are very good NHL players right now. Cam Ward and Justin Williams. That's it. Two players out of 55 are very good. Meanwhile, 29 of those 55 players have either not played in the NHL at all or have played fewer than 40 games in the NHL. That means that the Oilers, with one of those picks have just a 1.8% chance of drafting a very good player and a 52.7% chance of drafting a guy that will either not see the NHL at all or play fewer than 40 games 2-6 years after he was drafted.
Needless to say, the numbers do not favor Edmonton. The odds are even worse for that second round pick they received. As for Joffrey Lupul, he's a very good young player who is from Edmonton so he won't embarass the city by demanding a trade and pointing out the obvious - that it's a brutal place to live. Winters in Edmonton frequently see days that are below zero and cars have to be plugged in overnight to prevent the engine block from cracking due to the cold. Lupul is a good player, but he's not a future Hall of Famer most likely and I'd be stunned if he ever won a Hart Trophy.
Ladislav Smid is a tweener. He's not quite good enough offensively to be considered an offensive defenseman but he's not physical enough to be a physical defenseman. He's plays good defense and should be a solid #3 or #4 defenseman for years to come.
But that's it! Meanwhile the Ducks got a guy coming off an absolutely incredible playoff run. Chris Pronger was amazing in the playoffs this past year and he put up 21 points in 24 games for the Oilers. That's stunning from a defenseman. What's more, he shut down the opponents top line on a regular basis and he played enormous minutes. By playing nearly 30 minutes a night in the playoffs he made Edmonton's defense better. He was literally on the ice for half the game every night.
Now, with the Ducks, Pronger will most likely be on the second pairing of defensemen. Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin will be the top pairing, as they were last year, and Pronger can team up with either Sean O'Donnell or Vitali Vishnevski on the second pairing. That means that the Ducks will have a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman on the ice for 55 of the 60 minutes of every game. It also means that Pronger will be going against the opponents second line on a nightly basis. Think he might be able to shut down guys like Steven Reinprecht? Yeah, me too.
Last season the Ducks were the fifth best team in the NHL at even strength. With Pronger they are likely to be just as good if not better. And, the Ducks power play is flat-out frightening with Pronger and Niedermayer manning the points. Put Dustin Penner's big body in front of the net and watch the goals go in. The Ducks penalty kill should be outstanding as well. Even if one of them is in the box the Ducks will still have a Norris Trophy candidate manning the blueline.
There are folks that say Pronger has already complained about the trade - that he's not happy with being dealt to Anaheim and that he hates Teemu Selanne because of a cheap shot Selanne gave him in the 2002 Winter Olympics. To that I say - prove it. I haven't seen one quote from Pronger or his agent saying anything of that sort, but I have seen this from Chris Pronger:
"I'm excited to be a Duck. With (Coach) Randy Carlyle behind the bench and the players in the locker room, I'm definitely looking forward to an exciting four years." Pronger and Selanne have had their share of on-ice clashes over the years, but nothing that wasn't just part of the game. "That's what happens when you play against guys and battle in the trenches, you get those rivalries. Now you flip the switch and you're teammates." - OC Register, July 4, 2006
I've also seen this from Teemu Selanne:
"This is really special. I thought Adam Foote and Rob Blake (in Colorado) was incredible. Pronger and Niedermayer sounds unbelievable." - LA Times, July 3, 2006
If anyone can show me quotes from Pronger saying he's unhappy about the trade, please let me know by posting a comment below. Otherwise, cram it.
There are people (Al Stracharn) that think the Ducks would have been wiser to sign Zdeno Chara and keep their prospects/picks. Those people are wrong and here's why:
Chara is not anything close to Pronger. Chara has never won a Hart Trophy. Chara has never won a Norris Trophy. Chara has never dominated in the postseason. Chara has never been the captain of an NHL team and in fact has never even been an assistant captain of an NHL team. Chara has never won an Olympic Gold Medal. Chara, before he got to Ottawa, sucked ass. Chara was not the second overall selection in his draft year, and in fact was the 56th overall pick.
It is my opinion that Chara, if he were 6'3" and not 6'9", would be just another good defenseman. Yes, the Ducks could have signed him (though it would have been a slap in the face to give him over $1.5 million a year MORE than Niedermayer, who's won every trophy he's ever had a chance to win) but why? Chara thrived on an incredibly stacked Senators team - that doesn't mean he will thrive wherever he goes. In 45 career playoff games Chara has 14 points. Meanwhile, Pronger has 72 points in 109 career playoff games. In just this past postseason Pronger had 21 points in just 24 games.
So yes, the Ducks COULD have signed Chara, but so could the Oilers. They could have signed Chara and then dealt Pronger for beans and, according to some people, had just as good a defense - but now with beans! The fact is that Pronger is one of the three best defenseman in the league. Chara is not.
Again, I can't believe that I actually had to write this column and defend the Ducks acquisition of Chris Pronger - but, such is life when fans get jealous of a team that is actually doing all it can to win the Cup. Brian Burke has done nothing but weave gold since coming to Anaheim and now the team is a legitimate Cup contender entering the season for the first time ever. With Niedermayer and Pronger under contract for another three and four years respectively the Ducks have a three year window to win the Cup. Here's hoping they can do just that. As Brian Burke said: "I'd love to see Kevin (Lowe) collect on that (extra) pick." Amen.