SEE IF YOU notice the pattern.

Q: Why do the Flyers need a goaltender?

A: Chris Pronger.

Q: Why did the Flyers lose to the Bruins?

A: Chris Pronger.

Q: Who is the Flyers' most important health issue?

A: Chris Pronger.

You really don't have to read the rest if you don't feel like it. This is about the issue that should dominate the Flyers' thinking in the offseason. This is about Chris Pronger.

The Flyers slumped down the stretch of the regular season when Pronger broke a hand, and they were bounced in the second round of the playoffs when he injured his back, and now he is a 36-year-old potentially facing surgery on a herniated disc, and now the Flyers had better be in more of a hurry than they were last summer.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said yesterday that he does not agree with this premise, by the way. He said there is no shortening period of time for this nucleus to be successful, no Pronger window, and even if there were, that this Pronger window is not soon closing.

"You talk about the window - what does that mean?" Holmgren said. "We still have a core group of young players here that still has a lot of years left. The older guys you're talking about are Chris Pronger and probably Kimmo [Timonen]. I think they're both elite players at their positions. They both take care of themselves. They both still want to play, want to play a lot of minutes. They're both under contract for a few more years. I don't see that as an issue."

But Pronger? And his back?

"I think Chris can play the game for a long time at a high level," Holmgren said.

That is what he says now, and that's all fine - but I bet you he goes out and gets a goalie with some kind of a pedigree to be the starter while Sergei Bobrovsky develops as the backup. It won't be because the new goaltender will be a guarantee, because that person does not exist. It will be because the Flyers cannot afford another spring like this one in goal - and that is true, even recognizing that goaltending was not the main reason they lost to the Bruins.

They simply cannot take a chance on wasting another year of Pronger.

Holmgren can play this two ways. One is to anoint Bobrovsky as the hope for the franchise and run him out there, come hell or high to the glove side. That assumes two things, of course. One is that the Flyers believe he is their future, and that he will even out temperamentally as he matures in the NHL, and that he is good enough (and teachable enough) physically. The second assumption is that, because they like him so much, they would be willing to live with growing pains if they arrive next spring.

No one knows if either assumption is true. But after starting (and surviving) three different goaltenders in Round 1 this season, the strong suspicion is that nobody is ready for any growing pains in 2012.