Chris Pronger is set to return to Edmonton, but is he -- or the Oilers faithful -- ready for it?
On Tuesday, 28 November, Oilers fans will finally have the opportunity they have waited all season, and most of the summer, for; Chris Pronger will finally lead the Anaheim Ducks into the City of Champions, and face the wrath of the Edmonton faithful.
For many fans, Prongerís return will be their opportunity to finally come to terms with the fact that Pronger is no longer an Edmonton Oiler, and heís doing just fine, thank you.
Then again, tied for second in the Northwest division with a record of 12-8-1, and riding a five-game winning streak the Oilers arenít doing so badly themselves.
But Prongerís departure is still a tender spot for Oilers fans, and for good reason.
For long-suffering Oilers fans, Pronger's July, 2005 arrival was like an impossible dream come true. It was expected to signal the beginning of a new era. It even seemed that this would come to pass, as Pronger led the Oilers to game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Then, the unthinkable happened: a rumour that Pronger was to request a trade out of Edmonton officially became true. A month later, Pronger was traded to the Ducks of Anaheim, and the storybook was unceremoniously slammed shut.
For many fans, Pronger's tenure in Oilers silks was little more than a cruel dream, and his subsequent trade to the Ducks only a rude awakening. What the most optimistic (and, perhaps, most unrealistic) fans believed could have been the start of a new Oilers dynasty unravelled before their very eyes. Some fans viewed the matter with renewed cynicism -- others, as outright betrayal. The all-too-familiar sight of a superstar player leaving Edmonton for seemingly greener pastures had once again come to pass.
But Oilers fans have seen this happen before: they will not miss Chris Pronger for long. In the long run, however, Pronger could come to miss Edmonton far more than he ever realized.
For Pronger, his arrival in Edmonton could have been viewed as a new beginning; more importantly, as an opportunity to do what all great champions must do -- as an opportunity to commit. Certainly, Pronger had few opportunities to do so before. Any thoughts he may have had about committing himself to the Hartford Whalers would have been cut short by his trade to St, Louis. Likewise, the new collective bargaining agreement, which necessitated his trade out of St. Louis, broke any long-term commitment he was prepared to make there.
Commitment could be considered to be one of the most pivotal decisions a great champion makes on their way to cementing their legacy. Sometimes this commitment must be strongest when the grass looks greenest on the other side of the fence. Steve Yzerman had numerous opportunities to get out of Detroit -- all of which came at times when the Red Wings' fortunes seemed to be at their worst. Instead, Yzerman did everything he could to stay. For this commitment, he was eventually rewarded with three Stanley Cup rings, and -- come October -- his #19 jersey hanging from the rafters of the Joe Louis Arena.
If Pronger is to have such a legacy of his own, winning the Stanley Cup in Anaheim has become mandatory. Expectations for that team, and for himself, have never been higher -- and for good reason. They will have to do it soon, before the salaries of Pronger, his soon-to-be defensive partner Scott Niedermayer, and Anaheim's gifted legion of youngsters combine to overwhelm the Ducks' salary cap.
Certainly, not winning a Stanley Cup wouldn't diminish the many things Pronger has accomplished in his career. But championships are, in the end, what define great players, and separate them from the merely good.
Should Pronger fail to win the Stanley Cup over the next four seasons, his legacy may well be the empty space left next to Ryan Smyth's #94, when it is raised to the rafters of Rexall Place.
For Oilers fans, however, the time has finally come to get over it. Chris Pronger chose his family over his career as an Oiler. Regardless of whatever affect this may ultimately have on his career (one way or the other), it can't be argued he didn't make the right choice.
Pronger is gone, and the Oilers are doing just fine. Oilers fans need to get the booing out of their system, then get over it.