Chris Pronger: Hall Monitor

In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Chris Pronger joked that he is now the “hall monitor” of the NHL a role that is drastically different than his years of being a rough player. Being disciplined eight times by the NHL over his career, Pronger’s role as a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety (DoPS) brought on a lot of criticism. Pronger’s whole post-player career has garnered criticism because of the odd circumstances of his contract.

Technically according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Pronger isn’t even allowed to work for the NHL while still under contract with a team.

That issue made people, especially Flyers fans, wonder if the NHL would force Pronger to officially retire; which would cause Pronger’s yearly salary count towards the Flyers cap instead of being placed on long time injured reserve which allows Pronger’s cap to not count. The NHL also had to make it clear that Pronger wouldn’t have any part in disciplinary decisions concerning the Flyers. The move was discussed by the NHL and NHLPA and everything was worked out, but people still question Pronger’s ability to be impartial in such a serious role.

 

Chris Pronger’s career ended in November of 2011, only 13 games into his new role as Flyers captain. When then Toronto Maple Leaf Mikhail Grabovski’s stick hit Pronger in the eye, it caused a concussion. Pronger managed 5 more games after that until the concussion symptoms became too much. Pronger suffered severe post-concussion symptoms and was never able to return to the lineup. The team went two seasons without a new captain; still holding out hope that the blue line monitor would be able to return eventually. Pronger fell into the background a bit, with fans wishing him well. Then the idea that he would be eligible to go into the Hall of Fame started to spread, and Pronger’s name was at the center of debate again.

One of the Hall of Fame’s bylaws states that “an inductee must not play professionally for three years before becoming eligible” (No.26) Technically, Pronger hadn’t played for three years, but would his current contract keep him out on a technicality? The conversation went back and forth and even included some hurt feelings about Eric Lindros not making it to the HHoF yet. That conversation was ended in July when it was announced that Pronger would be inducted into the 2015 HHoF class along with Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, fellow defenseman Phil Housley and Angela Ruggiero, a three-time Olympic medalist for the U.S. women’s team to make up one of the most talented player groups to enter the Hall of Fame.

In his Hall of Fame speech on Monday, Pronger took the time to thank Paul Holmgren and the Flyers organization saying, “A heartfelt thank you to Mr. Snider and the Philadelphia Flyers staff for all they did for me while I was battling to recover from my last injury.”

“I have fond memories of the organization, Mr. Snider and the management staff, and the coaches, the players. We had a great group of guys and it was a great place to play hockey. The fans are very passionate. Win or lose, you’re going to hear about it. It was a great place to play and I had a lot of fun doing it.” –Neiburg, July 1, 2015

Pronger started his career as a Whaler; the second overall pick in the 1993 draft. IN 1995, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues; in his first season as Blues captain, he suffered a brief cardiac arrest during the playoffs after he was hit in the chest with a puck. In 2000, Pronger earned the Norris and Hart Trophies, beating out Jaromir Jagr for MVP. In 2002, Pronger won the gold medal with team Canada in the Salt Lake City Olympics. When the cap era began, the Blues traded Pronger to Edmonton where he earned the title “Public Enemy No.1” when he requested a trade only one season into his 5-year deal.

With Anaheim, Pronger won a Stanley Cup and two one-game suspensions on the way there; a check on Detroit Red Wings winger Tomas Holmström and one game for elbowing Ottawa Senators winger Dean McAmmond in the head. Pronger’s possibly most infamous incident came in 2008 against the Vancouver Canucks. Pronger and Ryan Kesler were caught up at the blue line and Pronger stomped on Kesler’s leg. Initially, Pronger wasn’t suspended, but the NHL reviewed different video angles and handed him an eight-game suspension. on February 20, 2009, Pronger played his 1000th game.

In 2009, Chris Pronger came to Philadelphia in exchange for Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul,  two first-round draft picks and a conditional third round draft pick. In typical Holmgren era fashion, Pronger was signed to a seven-year contract extension only ten days after becoming a Flyer. The deal, which seemed to predict a decline in play as Pronger got older, was investigated by the NHL because they thought the Flyers were trying to circumvent the salary cap.

Philadelphia was a perfect place for Chris Pronger to play. His aggressive style of play was synonymous with not only the Flyers style but also their reputation. He was a staple in the defensive core that Flyers fans dream of today, a blueline that helped the Flyers through a season filled with unforgettable moments; beating the Rangers in a shootout in the final game of the season to make it into the playoffs, their playoff comeback against the Bruins and the shattering loss to the Blackhawks. In that series, Pronger stole the game winning pucks in games 1 and 2.

As Dave Isaac wrote, “For a short time, Chris Pronger meant a ton to the Flyers.” Pronger was an important addition not only on the ice but in the locker room. He was feared, and he was respected. Pronger brought an accountability to the locker room that fans have only heard about since his absence.

“Chris was an icon,” ex-Flyer Danny Briere recalled. “He would calm everything down. Every game you felt his presence. I think both teams would feel his presence, but having him in our dressing room, he was a calming presence. He was a confidence booster. He didn’t have to say anything. Just knowing that he was there, he was just such a confident person, confident player, you always felt like everyone was afraid of him.”

And most were. Even his teammates. On a few occasions he would verbally undress his teammates if he felt they weren’t up to snuff. That happened to current captain Claude Giroux a couple of times.” – Dave Isaac

Pronger’s lingering contract has been a reminder of what the team lost for years. It may be the only big Holmgren era contract that was considered unfortunate rather than just plain stupid. While he may joke that he is the hall monitor now, he’s been the a hall monitor on a few teams, giving his teammates a bit of confidence, keeping their performance in check. He has been a presence around the league for years and we’re happy to honor a legend, the likes of which may never exist in the NHL again.
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