Chris Pronger Media Availability Yields Plenty of Material as Always

Chris Pronger Media Availability Yields Plenty of Material as Always

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger spoke to the media in a conference call yesterday, touching on just about everything from his worst-ever season in terms of injuries, his health prognosis for the future, the Flyers' goalie situation, Mike Richards' role as captain, and the media. Ya know, the usual fare these days.

Although nothing earth-shattering, Pronger is usually an interesting listen/read, so we included the full transcript as provided to the media below. The last question and answer focus on Richards, and in it, Pronger becomes the second prominent Flyer this off-season to single out a Philadelphia media member for his coverage of the captain (the other being the captain himself vs. Tim Panaccio). The players are firing back.

Also interesting in that last comment are Pronger's thoughts on how a player evolves as a captain, how he himself wasn't always the Pronger we now see after games and in calls like these.

All that is fun and interesting, but the biggest concerns we still have are with Pronger's health. The team may have some very good defenseman outside of #20, but no one quite at his level, and they suffered without him. So far, there's still a lot of healing that must happen before he's ready to play again, and after that, there could still be re-injury concerns.

Full transcript below.

How did the surgery go and how are you feeling?
 
”Well, as far as I was told it went very well. It relieved a lot of the weakness I was having in my leg and now it is just a matter of how the nerve regenerates itself and the range of motion and all the rest of that stuff. How it recovers and that stuff are probably another four to five weeks before we see where that is at.”
 
Can you tell us about the decision to have the surgery, was that an option you were given or was it pretty clear you had to have it?
 
“It was an option, but in order for me to try and play hockey again it was pretty cut and dry. I could have went through the whole summer rehab and you know, get another steroid injection and see if that calms the nerve down, but it was a pretty bad herniated disc. The odds of it becoming an issue again were very high. In my estimation it wasn’t really that high of a chance of not having the surgery done if I wanted to play anymore.”
 
Was this the first time you’ve had issue with your back? I didn’t notice any other problems that you have had in your career.
 
“No, this is the first time I have ever really had any real problems with my back, obviously you get sore and whatever, but any serious or medical issues, no this is the first time.”
 
Did the doctors say you were going to be back at full strength or is this going to reduce your play at all?
 
“Well, like anything else, especially with the back, there’s no guarantee, and that was one of the things we wanted to find out when I went and met with the doctor and what his recommendations are and what he has seen. Everybody is different and everybody recovers differently and you hope that you’re able to recover a hundred percent, but that’s never a guarantee and you never know. It’s still very early to be able to tell that. I won’t know that until probably training camp or maybe even further on, who knows.”
 
But you do expect to start the season, right?
 
“I don’t know, as I said today is day fourteen post surgery, so again I’m not going to know. I go back for another check up in three to four weeks and then you know ill begin to start rehab and I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m not Kreskin, I can’t look into the future and tell you what’s going to happen or not happen. Time is really all you can, time and patience, which I know you guys don’t have a lot of.”
 
You’re a big Kreskin fan, huh? A couple times you’ve mentioned it.
 
“Yeah, you’re on the ball sir. I like it. I may throw it out there a few more times depending on the questions you guys give me”
 
I know you’re not a doctor but for the laymen and all… from how I understand it there’s an extrapolation up against your nerve. What did they do to repair it? Did they remove it or shave it?
 
“Actually, I think they cut it, trim it, whatever terminology you want to use, shave it, I’m not sure of the exact term that you can use. Basically, they removed the impingement that is pushing against the nerve root in order to alleviate, we can call it vibrations, sensations, weakness that you have in your leg and you hope that that nerve. You know the reason you want to do it as quickly as possible from what I got from my meeting with the doctor was you don’t want the nerve exposed to that too long. It just creates more and more damage and you want that nerve to be able to regenerate so that you can get as much strength back as possible.”
 
Is it similar to the surgery Michael Leighton had?
 
“I have no idea.”
 
A couple guys on your team said that even though you guys were eliminated two rounds earlier this year they actually think that you are closer to a Stanley Cup right now then you were last year. Do you agree with that assessment?
 
“Yeah, I think when you look at the strides that some of our younger guys have made. You look at how Claude Giroux improved immensely this year. You Look at James van Riemsdyk from the beginning of the year and how he finished the year, he made leaps and bounds in how he played. You know, you look at things like that, as we all know a lot of what happens for teams is the health factor and how guys are. Last year we were fairly healthy, especially on the back end we were real healthy. We obviously went through a ton of goalies through  injury and up front we had a number of guys hurt, but if we can stay healthy next year I certainly feel we definitely have a chance just like we did this year and  I thought we did last year as well.”
 
Chris, do you think that it is important for this team to get a goalie and bridge that gap for [Sergei] Bobrovksy?
 
“Well as we all know, it’s never easy. When I was in St. Louis, it was always we need to get a goalie, we needed to get a goalie, we needed to do this, we needed to do that. They don’t grow on trees, even the ones you get you never know. You just don’t know. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. That’s the difficult part of it. What do you have to give up to get one? What are the ramifications for your team? Again, that’s above my pay grade, I don’t know what we’re going to do, who you’re going to get, or how you are going to get them. That’s for management and ownership to decide what they’re willing to do. You could go get whoever, you name a guy, you could go get him. It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to win. Which seems to me, you guys think you go get a goalie and all of a sudden you win; it’s not that easy.”
 
Do you think it would have been a different series if you had played against the Bruins?
 
“I don’t know. You know what, I’d like to think so, but I don’t know. I am not going to look into the past and say could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. We lost plain and simple. I didn’t play, I was hurt. End of story. You guys have got to cut the cord and move on. No more arm-chair quarterbacking.”
 
How much time do you feel like you have left in your body?
 
“Well again, I don’t know…I felt good when I played this year. That the funny thing
, every time I started to feel better and started to get my feet underneath me and get back into the grove, I had another injury. You talk about the other season, I basically missed the whole season, I played five games and I had my wrist issue where I had reconstructive surgery on my wrist. Mentally I feel like I can play. When I was healthy, my play speaks for itself. It’s a matter of staying healthy. This year was very tough, every time I turned around I had another injury. It wasn’t like it was a bump and a bruise, it was something broken that needed surgery to fix. That can be a little disappointing and frustrating, when you know you can still play at a high level and your play speaks to that and you’re not able to go out and play. That’s tough, especially when you feel like you can add another element to the team when you’re out there. Mentally I’ve got a lot left, it’s how my back feels. Basically, if the surgery works and I am able to train properly and get healthy, I don’t see why I can’t continue to play as long as I want, as long as everything else holds up.”
 
Did you feel an immediate impact from that surgery? Did you feel relief right away?
 
“I did, yeah. I no longer had the burning sensation and the shooting pain down my leg was gone. Obviously you can’t move all that much, they don’t want you bending, twisting, doing all the rest of that stuff. You’ve got to let the back heal up. Obviously it’s a very sensitive area with nerves and all the rest of it. So, you’ve got to be very careful. You want to make sure you don’t want to rush things like this. You want to make sure you have all summer, training camp, the start of the year. I don’t know when I will be healthy, when it will be back. I hope it comes back and it’s a hundred percent, but I want to make sure I take my time and rehab it properly and do all the things necessary to make sure that it is a hundred percent when I do come back and there’s no issues moving forward after that.”
 
How is the rehab for the back going to affect the rehab you do for your hand? Can you do one while you’re waiting to start on the other?
 
“I am actually doing that right now, as we speak. I’ve got different things that I do on the days when I am not doing hand therapy with a hand specialist. Just continue to try to gain strength back and work on my hand to try to get it back to where it needs to be to play the game properly. It’s the same answer basically for my back, time heals most wounds. I am sure a long summer of rehab and what not will get that back to where it needs to be play at a high level, hold my stick, and do all the rest of those things that way I need to be a good hockey player.”
 
It requires a lot of patience doesn’t it?
 
“It does, it does. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of patience in order to kind of go through the different steps to reach each hurdle. As you progress in the rehab protocol, you’ve got to hit a hurdle and then you go to the next one. It takes time, you can’t just jump back in to things you want to do. While you may want to do those things, you’ve got to just buy your time and be patient and just work through the various steps that have been put in place, kind of gauge yourself. You’re going to feel good but you just got to gauge it. A lot of times you’ve got to tap down a little bit and slow yourself down; you get antsy. It was a tough year, but I want to be able to use this time to make sure I’m healthy when I come back.”
 
Has the doctor given you a time table for when you can start skating? I think he said in about four weeks you would be doing some things, but is that skating or do you know what’s next for that part of it?
 
“Again, Sam, I am going to say it one last time, patience. Time, we got lots of time. I don’t know when I am going to be able to skate. I didn’t even ask, that was the last thing on my mind. There are a lot of hurdles that I need to cross before I can begin skating and all the rest of that stuff. I can’t really do anything for six weeks, not four. So, once I go and get checked up, I will be able to get the Q and A on the progressing further along and begin my rehab.”
 
Have you been watching the NHL Playoffs? Are you finding yourself rooting for anybody in particular, maybe a former teammate, anything like that?
 
“I have not watched, I have watched some highlights, but I haven’t been watching too intently. I have not been rooting for anyone, just rooting for long series. I want every series to go seven.”
 
At the end of the season, Paul [Holmgren] said he couldn’t figure out why this team didn’t play as well as it did the first half of the season. Do you have any thoughts about that at all?
 
“I don’t. You know, I think everybody would have liked to get better as the season progressed and those are the teams that usually progress further into the playoffs. I think we’ve seen that with the four teams that are in the conference finals. All four of those teams got better as the season went along and that’s what you need to do be successful is playing your best hockey at the right times, and we weren’t. That is something for whatever reason we didn’t do. I don’t think I have an answer for why. I know you’ve got a lot of opinions on it. I couldn’t give you the answer as to why.  There’s going to be 29 other teams in the same boat as us. So, it sucks. You set out to have a goal and you don’t achieve that goal it’s very disappointing. There are always arm chair quarterbacks, there’s always people looking in, looking for excuses or answers as to why this happened, that happened. At the end of the day, we didn’t get the job done. We’ve got to use the summer properly and make sure we are ready to go for September, whatever the start of camp is 15th or 16th, make sure once we set foot on the ice, we’re focused and understand what we need to do to be successful and follow through on that.”
 
Coming off that, a lot of fingers were pointed at Mike Richards, I am sure you have heard some of the things that were said about him…
 
“I have not. I have not. I have a simple answer for you. When a team wins, players get pats on the back or get all the credit. That’s usually your captain, your goalie, all the rest of that. When you lose, whether it’s fair or unfair, the people that get criticized are your captain, and your goalie, and all the way down the line. This is a team sport and for you to be successful you need everyone around you to play well. Whether it’s [Michael Richards], [Jeff Carter], myself, [Kimmo Timonen], [Brian Boucher], [Sergei Bobrovsky]; I mean it’s not just one guy. People can say whatever they want about Richie, but at the end of the day you have to realize it’s a team sport. Actually I did see one, is Sam Donnellon on the call? He’s not? I saw one headline ‘should Mike Richards step away for a year from the C.’ What good does that do? That is the most ridiculous thought I have heard yet. This is on the job training for Mike. I was brought in to help him be a captain and do all the rest of that and kind of help with my experiences. I think I got here, he was 24, he’s now 26. I think he’s made some strides. Everybody does things their own way. I wasn’t always this vocal with the media or this patient. It takes time, you have to have those experiences. I think when you go through tough times, maybe this is one of them for him, you learn an awful lot about yourself, you gain a lot of experience. This game and life is not easy.  Nothing in life worthwhile is easy.  If it was, everyone would be able to do it. You learn how to handle different situations and it only makes you better as a player and
a person, because you can always look back on those tough times and [know] I was able to come through those with my head held high and better. So will Mike. I went through them as a young captain; I went through them as a player. Getting booed, getting mouthed off walking out of the rink and wanting to fight guys after games and all the rest of it. It’s not easy, especially on a team when the expectations are this high and the fans are this passionate. The media, you guys are bickering with one another trying to get the scoops. It’s not easy. I think as his career progresses, he is going to understand more and more what the media’s job is, and just to give you guys a little, just a little bit, just a little taste. Which is what I do, just give you a little taste. You don’t have to give it all, just enough so you guys can do your job and leave him alone. That’s all experience. I think it’s a little ridiculous to be blaming one person.  We win as a team and lose as a team – period, end of story.”

Looming free agent Manny Machado puts Maikel Franco on the clock

Looming free agent Manny Machado puts Maikel Franco on the clock

CLEARWATER, Fla. – You hear it a lot at this time of year.

This is a big year for (fill in the name).

The 2017 season will be a big one for a lot of Phillies. This team remains an active construction site building for a better day, and the front office is sitting upstairs making a list of who fits into the future and who doesn’t.

So it’s a big year for Freddy Galvis to see if he can improve his on-base skills and hold off J.P. Crawford.

It’s a big year for Cesar Hernandez to see if his strong second half in 2016 was a young player really getting it, a sign of good things to come or just a three-month hot streak.

It’s a big year for Tommy Joseph as he tries to build on a nice big-league debut and hold off hard-charging Rhys Hoskins.

But when it comes to establishing oneself as a long-term part of this team’s foundation, Maikel Franco might have the biggest challenge of all among Phillies position players.

Yes, Franco belted 25 homers and drove in 88 runs last year, and those were surely impressive totals for a player of his age (23) hitting in a lineup where he was a marked man with little protection on a team that did not put many runners on base — that .301 team on-base percentage ranked 29th in the majors.

Despite huge upside, Franco’s game has some shortcomings. He is a free-swinger with poor on-base skills — he had a .306 on-base percentage last season and saw just 3.56 pitches per at-bat, ranking him 34th in the majors — and if you’ve been paying attention to what has come out of general manager Matt Klentak’s mouth in his 16 months on the job, you know that he values players who “control the strike zone” — both at the plate and on the mound.

Klentak and his lieutenants in the front office also place a premium on defense and Franco, despite good hands and a rocket arm, does not grade out near the top among major league third basemen, mostly because of his range, in advanced metrics. He ranked 12th out of 18 qualifying third basemen in runs saved (minus 6) last season.

Proof of this front office’s affinity for on-base skills and defensive acumen can be seen in center field and in that $30.5 million bulge in Odubel Herrera’s wallet. Herrera got on base more than 35 percent of the time his first two seasons in the majors and he grades out well in the advanced defensive metrics used by this team’s decision makers. All of this, along with his youth — he’s 25 — and projected upside led the front office to give Herrera a five-year contract extension this winter. Call it a statement of the type of player that this front office is looking for.

Franco can improve his flaws, particularly at the plate. He’s already hard at work trying to do so with new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

But why is it so pressing that he does? Why is this year such a big one for Franco?

Because he is entering his third season as a regular and the front office probably needs to know that the improvement is coming. Even as they construct their roster and prepare for the 2017 season here in spring training, this front office has its telescope out and is peering at future free-agent markets. Club president Andy MacPhail basically said that last week. In 2017, Maikel Franco has to convince this front office not to put Manny Machado in its sights. The superstar Baltimore Orioles third baseman will hit the free agent market after the 2018 season at the tender age of 26 and if you think his projected megadeal will be too rich for the Phillies then think again. Owner John Middleton has promised to spend big again when the team is ready to win.

In December at the winter meetings, Klentak was asked about some of the astronomical numbers being attached to the talent-rich free-agent class that is coming after the 2018 season. Could he see paying players $200 million, $300 million, $400 million when the time comes?

“I won’t put a dollar figure on anything,” Klentak said that day. “Markets develop the way that they develop and player values change over time. But I don’t have any doubt that this franchise will make significant investments when the time is right.”

Investing in a player like Machado could make long-term sense for the Phillies because he has the type of rangy body that often holds up past 35 and he could take his bat to first base when he’s older and done at third. Yes, it would take a long-term deal, probably at least seven years to get Machado.

Franco can throw cold water on this admittedly premature postulating by making improvements at the plate this season.

If he doesn’t show enough improvement or make the front office believe that it will eventually come, he could be a trade candidate and the Phillies could plug at third while they wait to make their run at Machado.

Franco knows his shortcomings and is working on them.

You could see it in batting practice Monday as he consciously tried to drive balls to right-center.

You could see it Friday as he stood in the outfield and talked hitting with new teammate Howie Kendrick. Kendrick mimicked a hitter driving the ball up the middle. Franco then did the same thing and nodded.

“I love to hit and sometimes I get excited,” Franco said. “I am concentrating on being more selective and using the middle of the field, not trying to do too much.”

Stairs has assigned Franco and Galvis to the same batting practice group as Kendrick.

“Howie has that gap-to-gap approach and I want Maikel and Freddy to see that every day,” Stairs said.

Stairs is convinced that if Franco stays with the approach he will “give away” fewer at-bats and become a tougher out in 2017 “and then you will see the on-base numbers come up.”

Franco needs to make these improvements if he’s going to have a long-range future with a team that is building through the concept of controlling the strike zone.

It’s a big year for him and the looming shadow of the ‘man’ in Baltimore makes it all that much bigger and intriguing.

MLB Notes: Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher to be guest instructors at Yankees spring training

MLB Notes: Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher to be guest instructors at Yankees spring training

TAMPA, Fla. -- Nick Swisher has arrived as a New York Yankees guest spring training instructor and Alex Rodriguez is on deck.

Swisher worked with outfielders Monday during his first day, which came three days after announcing his retirement as a player.

"I never have to worry about an 0 for 4 again," Swisher said with a smile. "It's great to be back."

A-Rod is set to make his initial appearance Tuesday.

"He's going to work with our players," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "Dispense knowledge that he has about how to play the game when he talks to the young kids, some of the expectations about how to deal with it. All the things Alex did well."

Rodriguez and Swisher were also guest instructors with the Yankees instructional league team last fall (see full story).

Giants: Cueto to miss start of spring training to be with ailing father
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Johnny Cueto remains in his native Dominican Republic helping his ailing father a week after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.

The Giants plan to reach out to him to see how he is doing and whether he thinks he will pitch for his country in the World Baseball Classic.

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy is not worried about Cueto's preparation. The right-hander has been throwing and working out regularly at the club's academy. Bochy says the World Baseball Classic is "starting to cause a slight concern."

Cueto signed a $130 million, six-year contract before last season. He went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and five complete games in 32 starts last year (see full story).

Red Sox: Moreland not worried about replacing Ortiz
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mitch Moreland knows he's likely the only new player in Boston's lineup since David Ortiz retired at the end of last season.

He's just not listening to those who say he needs to replace Big Papi's lofty production.

"I try not to hear it because there's no replacing that guy," said the 31-year-old first baseman, who signed a $5.5-million, 1-year deal with the Red Sox during the offseason.

"I think it's going to be more of a team effort," he said. "Obviously we picked up two big arms as well, and it's a very balanced club."

After playing his first 6+ seasons in the majors with the Texas Rangers, Moreland is with a new organization for the first time in his career. So far, he said, the move has been smooth (see full story).

Mariners: Paxton expected to have a big year
PEORIA, Arizona -- Forget the batter's box, pitching mound or anywhere else between the chalk lines of a baseball field.

According to Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais, the location of one of the biggest obstacles blocking a player from consistently excelling isn't on the diamond.

"A lot of it with that last hurdle is between your ears," Servais said at the Peoria Sports Complex.

Servais believes starting pitcher James Paxton cleared that bar last season, and the Mariners are expecting the 28-year-old left-hander to be a major contributor in 2017 for a team that looks to end Major League Baseball's longest current postseason drought.

"He is one of the guys ready to take the next step and be a real anchor in our rotation," Servais said.

Paxton is preparing to improve on his 6-7 record and 3.79 earned run average of 2016. He enters spring training locked into a spot in the starting rotation. That puts him in a different position than in a year ago, when he was battling for a spot (see full story).