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The prospect of losing a defenseman of the quality of, say, I don’t know, a Chris Pronger, just as a for-instance, must be terrifying to a few GMs around the league. I say that it’s only concerning to a small number because defensemen of Chris Pronger’s quality aren’t exactly the most common sight in the NHL these days, or indeed, league history. Chris Pronger, you see, is very, very, very, veryveryvery good.
But that’s what happened to the Flyers, and it wasn’t a Pronger-quality defenseman they lost to a concussion, it was Pronger himself. Which is probably worse because that guy has a tendency to forcibly drag bad teams by the hair into Stanley Cup Finals pretty regularly. That’s how it went with the Oilers in 2006, that’s how it went with the Flyers in 2010. The 2007 Ducks, it should be noted, were a good team.
That left Paul Holmgren in a sticky situation, as did his losing Matt Carle to Tampa on a not-so-great contract that he was probably right in not attempting to match. The Flyers blue line last year, after the Pronger injury, was famously thin, and given the number of goals the team scored last season (264, third-most in the league), it must have occurred to Holmgren that he could trade from one of his positions of strength to bolster one of his positions of weakness.
And so it was that he resolved to swap out freshly-extended James van Riemsdyk, who had a disappointing season in 2011-12, for a defenseman around which he could begin rebuilding his tattered blue line. Instead of doing that, though, he traded the former No. 2 overall pick for Luke Schenn.
Right now, that decision constitutes one of the most immediately-lopsided trades in recent NHL history, potentially ahead of James Neal and Matt Niskanen going to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski (there is some debate because it took Neal, now a 40-goal scorer alongside Evgeni Malkin, about half a season to find his legs in the Eastern Conference). After scoring 11 goals in 43 games all of last season, van Riemsdyk now has 11 in 19, but the shocking part is that it comes with an at least semi-sustainable shooting percentage of 15.9; at least he’s not like Brad Marchand shooting in the high 30s and low 40s all season.
This is, it should be noted, quite the departure for van Riemsdyk, whose career high in three prior seasons was just 21 goals in 75 games, and really only received his six-year, $25.5 million deal on the basis of his being electrifying in the Flyers’ run to the Cup Final. But that, one supposes, is the inherent risk of trading an extremely high draft pick who is entering the prime of his career for, well, Luke Schenn.
Schenn has been, hmm, there’s got to be a word for it… terrible doesn’t cover it, nor does disappointing. Okay, I guess Schenn has been upsetting for the Flyers so far this season. It’s tough to saw what he was brought in to do, exactly, but suffice it to say he hasn’t been doing whatever that was. This was most evident when the Flyers and Maple Leafs met two weeks ago, and van Riemsdyk’s new team torched his old one 5-2, and in which he blew Schenn’s doors off to score his then-eighth of the season. You can see that pictured above.
The two teams meet again tonight and with Toronto playing as well as it has (7-3 in the last 10, comfortably in a playoff spot) and Philly currently ninth in the East with 19 points from 20 games and a minus-4 goal differential to the Leafs’ plus-9, well, you can’t exactly expect good things for the defenseman in that deal.
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