SUN Hockey Pool

It's just Ducky for Pronger

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

Here's a question to test the expertise of all you amateur general managers out there:

If you could buy Joffrey Lupul and Ladislav Smid for $1.25 million out of your $44 million salary cap, would you do it?

If you think not, how about this deal? Those two, plus the Anaheim Ducks' first-round draft pick in 2007, plus a conditional 2007 first-round pick, plus their second-round pick in 2008 -- still all for $1.25 million. Would you do that?

Apparently, Ducks general manager Brian Burke wouldn't.

Yesterday, Burke gave that entire package to the Edmonton Oilers for Chris Pronger, one of the National Hockey League's best defencemen.

"Top defencemen are rare. One can play 15 years and you never get a shot at him. We got a shot and we felt we had to go for him," Burke said.

Pronger had asked for a trade from Edmonton and yesterday shed little light on the reason he wanted out, other than that it involved his family. The rest, he said, was "none of your business, basically.

"I understand why people were hurt. I feel for them. I didn't want it to turn our this way, but it was a personal matter and it's going to stay that way."

In some ways, it's a good deal. With Scott Niedermayer already in place, the Ducks now have the kind of defensive tandem that is rarely seen in today's hockey. It's reminiscent of Gary Suter and Al MacInnis on the blue line of the Calgary Flames when they were one of the dominant teams in the league.

The creation of such a potent pairing shows that Burke is right on the cutting edge of today's NHL thinking which puts a premium on elite defencemen.

But if that's what he wanted, why didn't he just buy Zdeno Chara?

There's very little to choose between Pronger and Chara -- except for the fact that Chara is about three years younger and slightly less injury prone.

Chara went to the Boston Bruins on Saturday as an unconditional free agent for a contract that will pay him $7.5 million a year for five years. Pronger has four years left on a contract that pays him $6.25 million annually.

So if Burke had signed Chara, he could have had the kind of blue-line tandem he covets, but he wouldn't have had to give away Lupul, Smid and all those draft picks. All he would have had to do was bump his payroll by $1.25 million to cover the difference between Pronger's salary and Chara's.

Okay, maybe he would have had to pay a little bit more. Perhaps Burke might have had to go over Boston's bid -- say to $7.75 million a year. Maybe even $8 million.

But even so, it seems like a bargain when you consider what he gave up.

Lupul is one of the brightest young offensive stars in the game and, like so many of the NHL's western players, a well kept secret in the east.

The 20-year-old Smid, who has never played in the NHL, was selected as one of the top 10 defensive prospects in the world by The Hockey News.

There is, however, another way to look at it. If Bill Gates pays $1 million for something that's worth only $100, he vastly overpaid. But with Gates's wealth, it doesn't matter.

Burke inherited a team that Bryan Murray had stacked with excellent young talent. Perhaps he feels that he can well afford to part with some of it.

If Ducks coach Randy Carlyle handles them properly -- and there's no reason to think he won't -- the two Anaheim defence stars will be extremely difficult to counter.

When the Detroit Red Wings beat the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2002 Stanley Cup final, a major factor was the that Wings coach Scott Bowman had either Nick Lidstrom or Chris Chelios on the ice. Often, both of them were out there.

With Pronger and Niedermayer on the roster, Carlyle will be able to employ a similar strategy that will pay great dividends to the Ducks.

But the price for that luxury was extremely high.


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