SUN Hockey Pool

Time is now for trade

Defenceman Chris Pronger has asked the Edmonton Oilers for a trade for personal reasons. The time...

Defenceman Chris Pronger has asked the Edmonton Oilers for a trade for personal reasons. The time for him to move should be sooner rather than later, writes Al Strachan. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:08 PM ET

For Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe, the clock is ticking a lot faster than he would like.

In theory, he has all summer to trade Chris Pronger. Or, for that matter, he doesn't have to trade him at all. Pronger is under contract for four years and even though he has asked to be traded, he can't demand it.

But in the real world, Lowe has only until Friday to make the best available Pronger deal.

On July 1, a whole bunch of top-flight free agent defencemen will come on the market as a by-product of the National Hockey League's new collective bargaining agreement which makes sure that no team can keep its team intact for long.

And defencemen are the pure gold in this economic system. You can always find goalies. Forwards are plentiful. But top-notch defencemen are the cream of the crop, the guys who are the most scarce -- so scarce that the Stanley Cup winning Carolina Hurricanes didn't have one.

For that matter, neither did the three teams the Hurricanes beat on the way to the Cup.

There are those who would suggest that this means that elite defencemen are not as valuable as it would seem. But general managers don't share that view, and over on the western side, the conference finalists each had one -- Pronger for the Oilers, Scott Niedermayer for the Anaheim Ducks.

So ever since the Toronto Sun revealed a week ago that Pronger wanted to get out of Edmonton, interest in his services has been widespread.

But there is also interest in defencemen like Ed Jovanovski, Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara. Unlike Pronger though, they're about to become free agents.

If you can make a deal for Pronger, you know he's yours -- assuming Lauren Pronger likes the city -- for four years. In the case of the free agents, you're merely one of a number of bidders.

You may get your man. You may not.

It's that added certainty that jacks up Pronger's value for the next few days. Any GM interested in an elite free-agent defenceman would be interested in Pronger. So the demand is high but the supply is one player. It's the primary rule of economics. Pronger's price, as reflected in Lowe's return -- will be high.

But once the free agents hit the market, the market will cool because more defencemen are in it. Supply increases.

Once those free agents are signed, Pronger's value would rise again, but by then, there won't be as many bidders as they are today. Some teams will have acquired their elite defenceman and will no longer be interested in Pronger.

You can always count on the notoriously subservient Edmonton media to paint Pronger as despicable.

But that's what happens to everyone who turns his back on the Oilers.

General managers will make up their own minds. The Edmonton view won't alter the price. The GMs see a guy who plays physically, logs incredible ice time and is highly capable at both ends of the rink.

And they'll want him.

Pronger's ideal landing spot would be St. Louis and with John Davidson having been working the Stanley Cup playoffs, negotiations to that end started weeks ago.

But he has other cities he'll accept, two of which -- Toronto and Vancouver -- are in Canada.

Theoretically, Lowe has plenty of time. He could even trade Pronger in mid-season. But let's not forget that the Oilers made the playoffs by only three points. They need a motivated Pronger -- or his replacement -- to stay above water in that conference.

Realistically, Lowe has to accept that Pronger has to be moved. And the sooner he does it, the better the deal he can get. Florida, Toronto, New York Rangers and Phoenix are all interested.

An auction among those teams could provide lucrative returns.


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