Big Decisions: The Chris Pronger Trade

Jonathan Willis
May 26 2012 11:33AM

Officially, the Edmonton Oilers rebuild started midway through 2009-10, as a team built to make that last push for the playoffs imploded spectacularly, finishing last in the NHL. Unofficially, the real trigger was the departure of the catalyst from the 2006 run, Chris Pronger. In the Pronger trade, the Oilers acquired good value in terms of assets, but terrible value from a ‘win right now’ perspective.

More than any other action, arguably it was the Pronger trade that set the Oilers on the course they are now.

In some ways, Kevin Lowe’s hands were tied. Pronger demanded the trade, and suddenly Lowe faced the ugly reality that his franchise cornerstone wanted to leave town.

In the end, however, the decision not to force Pronger’s hand – refusing to deal him without something adequate for the here-and-now, daring him to welsh on his contract and forfeit the money until some team coughed up a solid defenseman – cost the club. Jason Smith was fifth in ice-time on the 2005-06 club; he led the way in 2006-07. Ladislav Smid, who would spend time in the minors a year later, was number two. Reserve 2005-06 defender Matt Greene finished third. Things were ugly.

Oilers fans lived through the aftermath, so there’s no need to spend a lot of time there (it was so bad that many of us foolishly thought things weren’t going to get worse).

The long-term payoff for suffering through 2006-07 was in terms of overall assets. The Oilers landed five (FIVE!) assets in exchange for Pronger – one of them a conditional first round pick if the Ducks won the Stanley Cup, which they went on to do. Those assets were as follows:

Joffrey Lupul - A sheltered 28-goal scorer in Anaheim, Lupul was tossed into the fire in Edmonton and had one of the most miserably underachieving seasons imaginable. The total disappoint was shuffled off to Philadelphia (along with Jason Smith) for Joni Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson and a third round pick. Sanderson retired as an Oiler, the Oilers burned the third rounder on a player Philly would approve of (Cam Abney) and Pitkanen was sent away for Erik Cole.

Cole was then swapped to Carolina (along with a fifth-round pick) for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second-round pick. The second round pick was used to rent Ales Kotalik, while O’Sullivan went to Phoenix in exchange for Jim Vandermeer. After one season, Vandermeer left for free agency.

Bottom line: A terribly disappointing Lupul begat a disappointing Pitkanen who begat a disappointing Cole who begat a terribly disappointing O’Sullivan who begat Jim Vandermeer who begat nothing. The central piece of the Pronger return provided no long-term value to the team.

Ladislav Smid - The Oilers, whether out of a desperate need for help on a depleted blue line or a desperate need to justify the Pronger trade rushed Smid into the NHL in 2006-07 before he was ready; the next year he spent some time in the minors before coming up for good. Over 300-odd games, the Oilers slowly developed him from a third-pairing liability to a useful second-pairing guy, until 2011-12.

This season, paired with either Jeff Petry or Tom Gilbert, Smid blossomed into a physical, shut-down defenseman, a player well worth the wait and one the Oilers were lucky not to have given up on. It’s frightening to think how things could have been different – in the summer of 2009 he was offered as part of a package for Dany Heatley.

Bottom line: The Oilers spent a long time developing the player, but the raw talent was there and the decision has finally started to pay off in a big way with a player who should be a fixture on the blue line for at least the next five years.

1st Round pick in 2007 - The Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, so the Oilers ended up with the 30th overall pick. They packaged that along with their second rounder (36th overall) to move up to #21, where they selected forward Riley Nash. Riley Nash was eventually sent away for a second round pick, a pick used on prospect Martin Marincin.

Bottom line: The Nash pick didn’t work out, but Marincin’s a fine prospect.

1st Round pick in 2008 - As Brian Burke repeatedly said (with no discernible sarcasm), Lowe negotiating the conditional pick was a great move on his part. At the time, that wasn’t so obvious, but the player the Oilers ended up with – Jordan Eberle – made it very true. Of course, having that additional pick also made the Oilers comfortable enough to use their own pick in the Dustin Penner offer sheet (a decision which cost them the selection eventually used on Tyler Myers) but then that’s a different transaction.

Bottom line: The conditional pick that the Oilers would not even have received had all those people cheering against Pronger in Anaheim had their way turned out to be the best part of the deal. Jordan Eberle is regarded as one of the primary building blocks in the current rebuild.

2nd round pick in 2008 - The Oilers never made this pick (Travis Hamonic), instead trading it to the Islanders in exchange for a third-rounder and Allan “Hot Doorknob” Rourke. The reason they made that trade was because they needed their own third round pick (previously dealt to Long Island) to make an offer sheet to Dustin Penner.

FINAL TALLY

In the end, the Oilers ended up with two key pieces of the current rebuild: Jordan Eberle and Ladislav Smid, as well as prospect Martin Marincin. If Joffrey Lupul hadn’t flamed out so badly – and if the Oilers hadn’t reversed the one red paperclip in their subsequent trades – they could have ended up with more. All in all, if one chooses to ignore the streak of futility (which still hasn’t ended) that the team has suffered through post-Pronger, the Oilers did well in terms of generating value out of the player.

On the other hand, it was the failure to turn the tremendously valuable Pronger - he really should have won the Conn Smythe in 2006 - into immediate value that really destroyed the team.  Other things - the exodus of players like Spacek, Peca and Samsonov - hurt, but in Pronger the Oilers could have immediately addressed their blue line.  They chose to put that off, and the key player they got offered no lasting value.  Gutting the team in that way laid much of the groundwork for the 2009-10 implosion.

For both good and ill, much of the current rebuild can be traced back to the Pronger trade.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#2 Gerald R. Ford
May 26 2012, 12:22PM
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I'd rather see a picture of Rita MacNeil bending over to pick up a french fry on the ground, sporting a dental floss bikini and a predictably half-hearted wax job, than that rake-faced Delta Bravo sitting next to Stanley.

That said, 14 makes everything better. ☺♥♫☼☺♥♫☼

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#3 Walter Sobchak
May 26 2012, 06:43PM
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What would have happened if Lowe had some balls and told Pronger to shove his trade request striagh up his arse?

"Contract bro! you signed it, your playing it"

Would we have been better off for it?

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#4 PeOiler
May 26 2012, 11:41AM
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Chris F{ist}'n Pronger...

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#5 Wäx Män Riley
May 27 2012, 03:20AM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

What would have happened if Lowe had some balls and told Pronger to shove his trade request striagh up his arse?

"Contract bro! you signed it, your playing it"

Would we have been better off for it?

We probably wouldn't have Hall or RNH (and obviously not Ebs), but as a GM, I would have a tough time NOT saying that.

"Chris. I don't care if you signed this contract in 30 mins on the advice of your agent. Who's fault is that? You live with the consequences of your decisions, and if we can get a great deal, we will do it. Until then: Bro, you're playing out your contract."

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#7 rotten ron
May 26 2012, 11:50AM
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Wasn't eberle a 2nd round pick?

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#8 fever4flames
May 26 2012, 11:53AM
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in otehr words.. LOL... PRONGER trade STILL A BUST!

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#9 Craig1981
May 26 2012, 12:01PM
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And to top off, does anyone know what the 2nd round pick the oilers gave up for Penner was used for. (The initials are J.S.). Now that would make the oilers signing him interesting

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#10 Wanye
May 26 2012, 12:02PM
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Jordan Eberle? WHO IS THAT?

Nice piece JW.

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#11 Craig1981
May 26 2012, 12:03PM
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Great artical BTW. I have been following the series of trades since it happend

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#12 YFC Prez
May 26 2012, 12:19PM
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I hated Lupul for sucking so badly with the oil. I hate him even more for playing so well for Burke!

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#13 non descript
May 26 2012, 12:30PM
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@Gerald R. Ford

well put.

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#14 Chris!
May 26 2012, 12:32PM
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I am amazed and humbled to see you reference the old Hot Doorknob post. Allan Rourke's legacy lives on!

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#15 Ei8HTYSE7EN
May 26 2012, 01:16PM
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Pronger really did screw our team over.. but at the same time, I think what if things didn't do sour how our team would be with him. Can you imagine, RNH, Hall, Eb's, yak with Prongs and Smid on the back end? Of course if we still had Pronger we wouldn't have all those picks though.

It was for sure one of the worst times for Oilers after we were all calling for him to be our Captain. Dark days in deed.. It's right up there with losing Gretzky and Messier.

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#16 John Chambers
May 26 2012, 01:57PM
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Boy, we could really go for a Lupul for Pitkanen-type trade right about now.

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#17 justDOit
May 26 2012, 02:40PM
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Gerald R. Ford wrote:

I'd rather see a picture of Rita MacNeil bending over to pick up a french fry on the ground, sporting a dental floss bikini and a predictably half-hearted wax job, than that rake-faced Delta Bravo sitting next to Stanley.

That said, 14 makes everything better. ☺♥♫☼☺♥♫☼

Not sure who I'm more ticked off at right now. You for that description or me for my imagination putting a mental picture to it!

It seems like you've spent too much time with the secret service, Mr. President!

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#20 PaperDesigner
May 26 2012, 03:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Pitkanen had warts no doubt, but the Oilers could use him. Heck, the Oilers could use Erik Cole, for that matter.

Perhaps most importantly, I think of that chain of players, Pitkanen was the only one that turned in a particularly useful season for the Oilers during the season they got him. I never understood why they traded him for a guy that had one year left on his contract.

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#21 PaperDesigner
May 26 2012, 03:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Pitkanen had warts no doubt, but the Oilers could use him. Heck, the Oilers could use Erik Cole, for that matter.

Perhaps most importantly, I think of that chain of players, Pitkanen was the only one that turned in a particularly useful season for the Oilers during the season they got him. I never understood why they traded him for a guy that had one year left on his contract.

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#22 Quicksilver ballet
May 26 2012, 04:24PM
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Took some balls to make a deal and bring a Chris Pronger in. Burke knew he could be the one to help them get over the hump. A GM who had a plan and went out and executed it.

Wish we had a GM like that, and not a dreamer.

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#23 majin_oil
May 26 2012, 04:31PM
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@Gerald R. Ford

LMAO!!

Despite the grotesque imagery your words have painted in my mind, I will still acknowledge your post as nothing short of awesome.

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#24 @Oilanderp
May 26 2012, 04:48PM
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Sheds a single tear as bad memories come flooding back.....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCqEVr4soLU

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#25 David S
May 26 2012, 05:30PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Man, I miss Covered in Oil.

CiO and Battle of Alberta. The days before internet billionaires like Wanye ruled the earth. Good times.

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#26 speeds
May 26 2012, 05:54PM
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I realize there's no reason to think the Oilers would have drafted the same players had they kept all those picks and not signed Penner to the offer sheet, but it's interesting to see that all laid out - the Oilers D would sure look different if they had, with Myers, Schultz and Hamonic instead of Klefbom, Teubert, and whoever EDM picks with LA's 3rd this draft.

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#27 The Real Scuba Steve
May 26 2012, 06:48PM
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Should of made an example out him like Souray, but I thought KLowe at the time was a G.M genius, man was I wrong.

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#28 Walter Sobchak
May 26 2012, 07:04PM
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@ The Real Scuba Steve

I was seen cracks when he had a decision to make between keeping Weight or Comrie.

Do you keep Weight and trade the younger cheaper Comrie and give Weight Comrie’s money?

Or Keep Comrie

Well, we all know how that one turned out too.

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#31 SLURVE
May 26 2012, 11:43PM
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nm

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#32 SLURVE
May 26 2012, 11:52PM
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I believe the Pronger trade was a minute part of our downfall in 2009-2010. The trade was 4 years after the fact. The real reason was man games lost due to injuries-an Oilers record of 530 games. Couple that with the split in the dressing room and Moreau and Staios were soon not with the Oilers. There were at least 10 players from the year 2009-2010 that were no longer with the team during the off seaason-the start of cleaning house. Grebs, Pisani, Staois were traded in March 2010 and that was the beginning of the rebuild followed by Moreau's release (buyout) in June.

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#33 striker777
May 27 2012, 04:29AM
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Getting Eberle and Laddy Smid for Pronger is very good. By leaving the team hanging and causing it to implode, caused us finishing last and draft Hallsy and Nuge. I was pissed off at the time, but now.....it doesn't seem to hurt so much.

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#35 Walter Sobchak
May 27 2012, 08:41AM
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@ Wax Man Riley

That’s the dilemma Wax Man. True; we wouldn’t have those great players.

I still don’t think that would have happened with Slats as GM too.

To this day I think Burke took Lowe for a bit of a ride on the trade as well.

Hard to say that now, but at the time it didn’t look to good.

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#36 Eulers
May 27 2012, 11:39AM
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"and if the Oilers hadn’t reversed the one red paperclip in their subsequent trades"

Great writing, Jonathan!

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#37 Rama Lama
May 27 2012, 12:01PM
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The morale of the story is.......don't trade away your draft picks, eventually this come back to haunt you!

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#38 jake
May 27 2012, 02:38PM
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The scorched earth rebuild was going to have to happen in Edmonton sooner or later once Messier was traded, and San Jose entered stage left of the NHL (sun belt teams comming in droves after that). Not a question of if but when.

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#39 marconiusE
May 28 2012, 08:15AM
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Really? The same guy who got things done with Seguin trade?

Granted, hindsight is always 50-50, but don't forget that a guy who makes bold moves will have some pay off (Pronger) and some not (Kessel), that's what makes them bold moves.

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#40 marconiusE
May 28 2012, 08:16AM
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@Come join the Dark Parade... Took some balls to make a deal and bring a Chris Pronger in. Burke knew he could be the one to help them get over the hump. A GM who had a plan and went out and executed it.

Wish we had a GM like that, and not a dreamer. Really? The same guy who got things done with Seguin trade?

Granted, hindsight is always 50-50, but don't forget that a guy who makes bold moves will have some pay off (Pronger) and some not (Kessel), that's what makes them bold moves.

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#41 bdiddy18
May 28 2012, 10:13AM
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Stated the day the rumors broke about Chris Pronger trade's request - Make him sit and wait!

The deal would have gotten better and better the longer the wait - it was the summer - all players were long gone and out of town there was no need to rush the trade.

Similar to the Ryan Smyth trade to NYI - Oilers would have been far better off announcing he was a trade option and not making a rush deal in the final minutes of the deadline.

this is why Kevin Lowe was a horrible GM - Emotional Reactionary decisions that blurred his vision on the future impact on the Oilers Roster. Then after losing Pronger so desperate to repeat the off season acquisition of a star he went UFA hunting and struck out miserably then the Heatley fiasco.

Now that you've got Tambellini - you got fans screaming he is too slow, doesn't make quick decisions or make a trade for the the sake of "waking up the roster" . DAMN IF YOU DO DAMNED IF YOU DON'T the oiler fan way.

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#42 Mr DeBakey
May 28 2012, 01:56PM
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"The Oilers spent a long time developing the player, but the raw talent was there and the decision has finally started to pay off in a big way with a player who should be a fixture on the blue line for at least the next five years."

Smid is UFA after next season. Five years maybe, maybe NOT.

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