Saying that the Philadelphia Flyers underwent some changes this offseason is definitely an understatement. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and others are out. Jaromir Jagr, Iyla Bryzgalov and many others are in. However, one huge constant remains in Philadelphia and that constant patrols the blue line with an angry snarl and a tendency to steal pucks.

That man is Chris Pronger and he will be expected to once again be a leader on this Philadelphia Flyers team. That is, if he’s ready to play.

Pronger underwent back surgery to to remove a herniated disc from his spinal cord this summer and at times it looked doubtful that he would be able to return to the ice in time for training camp. Remember, this is the same Pronger who played only 50 games for the Flyers last season while recovering from knee surgery, a hand injury and a few other ailments.

So it was good news for Flyers’ fans and for the team itself when Pronger stepped back on the ice a few days ago. It looks like even better news for the team now that General Manager Paul Holmgren says that Pronger may be ready to go for the team’s season opener.

Holmgren told CSNPhilly that “Chris is finding out that he feels better than even he thought he would.”

That’s excellent news for the Flyers.

Chris Pronger is incredibly important to the Philadelphia Flyers. Even at his age and with his medical history, he’s one of the fiercest defensemen in the game. The Flyers are a completely different team with Pronger on their blue line than they are without him. However, this season Pronger’s importance will be even greater.

Like it or not, the Flyers are a team in transition. The drastic moves they made during the offseason have changed the team both on the ice and in the locker room. This is a franchise that will need to redefine what it stands for and how it competes every night. Chris Pronger is the man who can steer the team in the right direction.

Whether or not he is eventually named captain, Pronger is a leader in Philadelphia. You’ll be hard pressed to find an NHL player who doesn’t both respect and fear Chris Pronger, outside of someone in the Chicago Blackhawks locker room that is.

There are a lot of question marks attached to the Philadelphia Flyers this year and whether or not Pronger is in the line-up on a regular basis will go a long way to determining if this team is a contender or not. While the Flyers managed to be successful last season in spite of Pronger’s injury struggles, repeating that feat will be more difficult this year.

Teams that undergo a lot of turnover in a short period of time often struggle out of the gate as the various parts try to come together. The players that were shipped out of Philadelphia this summer were huge parts of the team and their voids will need to be filled. If Pronger isn’t there to hold the team together, the Flyers could fall off the rails pretty quickly.

Thankfully for Philadelphia, it looks like Pronger will be in game shape when the puck drops in October.

“I asked him the other day how far behind he is in terms of what he would have done on a normal year,” said Holmgren. “He said, ‘I probably would have skated a couple weeks ago.’ So I think he’s right on track for all he’s been through, and ‘’m excited about him being ready at the start of the season, and I think he is too.”