Chris Pronger’s illustrious career was filled with highs and lows. A Stanley Cup and two Olympic Gold Medals as well as a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was known as a dirty player, serving eight suspensions in his career. His playing career ended prematurely due to concussion issues, but he left behind a legacy and a style of play we may never see again.
Born in Dryden, Ontario, Canada on October 10, 1974 Chris Pronger grew up playing hockey with the Stratford Cullitons of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Pronger initially stated he wanted to go to college at Bowling Green State University instead of playing in Juniors. He was still drafted by the Peterborough Petes in the sixth round of the 1991 OHL Priority Draft.
Pronger was dominate during his two years with the Petes, showcasing his combination of size, skill, and physicality, he drew massive attention heading into the 1993 NHL Draft. Chris Pronger was drafted second overall by the Hartford Whalers, the man selected before him, Alexandre Daigle, was a famous draft bust and remembered for his infamous quote “I’m glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two”.
Pronger made his NHL debut during the 1993-94 season and played in 81 games, but had a multitude of off-ice incidents including a bar fight in Buffalo and an arrest for drunk driving, leading many to label him immature. He finished his rookie season with five goals and 30 points.
He played one more season for the Whalers, though dressed for only 43 games. His reputation continued to hurt him and he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues for star forward Brendan Shanahan on July 27, 1995.
Upon his arrival in St. Louis, then-coach Mike Keenan was determined to fix Chris Pronger by working on his conditioning. Late in the 1995-96 season the Blues acquired forward Wayne Gretzky to help carry the offensive responsibility so Pronger could work on his defensive game.
During Gretzky’s short tenure in St. Louis, he helped them qualify for the playoffs for the 17th straight season. Pronger finished with seven goals and 25 points and added another six points during 13 playoff games.
Gretzky left St. Louis in free agency to join the Rangers and the Blues got off to a slow start and an ugly public feud between coach Mike Keenan and Brett Hull took center stage. Keenan was fired on December 19, 1996 and was replaced by Colorado Avalanche assistant coach Joel Quenneville who was able to quickly right the ship and helped the Blues qualify for the playoffs. Chris Pronger quietly put up a much better season, scoring 11 goals and 35 points. It was the third of six seasons when his point totals would increase year-to-year.
Chris Pronger was named captain of the St. Louis Blues to start the 1997-98 season. Quenneville brought a defense-first mentality to the team and they bought into the system and posted an impressive 45-29-8 record. The Blues made it to the second round of the playoffs, but got eliminated by the Red Wings for the second straight season. That series in infamous for Chris Pronger suffering from a brief cardiac arrest after being hit in the chest by a puck. He collapsed and was unconscious on the ice. He was taken to local hospital and was able to make a full recovery.
By the start of the 1998-99 season, Chris Pronger had established himself as one of the top defenseman in the league. Pronger joined Al MacInnis and formed a dynamic, competitive duo on the St. Louis blueline. MacInnis won the Norris Trophy that season and the Blues pushed their playoff appearance streak to 20 years. The Blues would get knocked off again in the second round, this time by the Dallas Stars. Pronger finished the season with 13 goals and 46 assists, both highs for Pronger at the time.
Chris Pronger made his Olympic debut at the 1998 Winter Games representing Team Canada. He played in six games, going pointless, as Canada finished fourth.
The 1999-00 season would be a career year for Chris Pronger as well as a dominate season for the Blues. The team finished with a 51–19–11–1 record, won the Presidents Trophy, and clinched a playoff spot for the 21st consecutive year. The Blues who held the first seed in the West were beat by the eight seeded Sharks in the seven games during the first round. Pronger won the first and only Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy of his career for his career-high 14 goals, 48 assists, and 62 points.
Injuries derailed Pronger’s 2000-01 season as he only suited up for 51 games. Pronger’s partner Al MacInnis only suited up for 59 games. Nonetheless, the Blues still had a successful season going 43–22–12–5 and made the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive year.
Pronger returned for the playoffs and played in all 15 games as the Blues made it all the way to the Western Conference Final before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Avalanche. Pronger finished the season with 47 points in 51 games, plus eight points in 15 playoff games.
Pronger returned to form during the 2001-02 season as he suited up for 78 games, though posting his second straight 47-point season. The Blues made the playoffs for the 23rd straight season but were eliminated in the second round by the eventual Cup winning Red Wings.
The 2002-03 season was all but lost for Chris Pronger, who was limited to just five games. Al MacInnis replaced him as captain during the season and the Blues made the playoffs without him. He returned for the Blues playoff run, but they were eliminated in the first round by the Canucks in seven games.
Chris Pronger joined Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics, where he won a Gold Medal. He played six games registering one assist.
Chris Pronger returned for a near-full season during the 2003-04 season, dressing for 80 games. He was not given the captaincy back after MacInnis took over the season before. He posted the second best season of his career to that point with 54 points, good enough for fourth on the team in scoring. The Blues made the playoffs for the 25th straight time, but again were eliminated in the first round by San Jose.
The 2004-05 season was wiped out by the lockout and Chris Pronger didn’t play anywhere during the break. The Blues were heavily affected by the lockout, as captain Al MacInnis retired and the franchise had to make some moves to lower the player salaries to make the team easier to sell. On August 2, 2005 the Blues trades Chris Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a trio of defenseman Doug Lynch, Eric Brewer, and Jeff Woywitka.
The addition of Chris Pronger was one of many high-caliber additions the Oilers made during the offseason and it helped them clinched the eighth seed in the playoffs. The Oilers advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final but lost to the Carolina Hurricanes. Pronger became the first player to score on a penalty shot during the Stanley Cup Final. Pronger finished the regular season with 56 points, then added 21 points in 24 playoff games, a career high for him.
After just on season in Edmonton, Chris Pronger demanded a trade during the summer of 2006. He claimed it was for personal reasons, but the fans were furious he wanted out. He was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Joffery Lupul, defenseman Ladislav Smid, a pair of first round picks, and a 2008 second round pick.
Pronger made his third appearance as a member of Team Canada at the 2008 Olympics. He recorded a goal and two assists in six games as Canada finished seventh.
Chris Pronger joined an absolutely stacked Anaheim Ducks roster in 2006-07 and formed a solid pair with Scott Niedermayer on the blueline. The Ducks finished atop the Pacific Division and tore through the playoffs beating the Wild and Canucks in the first two rounds, both in five games. They downed the Red Wings in six games in the Western Conference Final then beat the Ottawa Senators in five games to with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Pronger finished the season with 59 points in 66 games then added 15 points in 19 playoff games. This was also the first and only Stanley Cup of Pronger’s career, but with the win he joined the Triple Gold Club. He was suspended twice during the playoffs, once during the Conference Final for a hit on Tomas Tatar and once in the Final for an elbow on Dean McAmmond.
The following season in 2007-08, Pronger was named the Ducks captain, taking it from defensive partner Scott Niedermayer, who missed the early season after contemplating retirement. Niedermayer returned and they carried the Ducks to the playoffs once again, though they were eliminated in the first round by the Dallas Stars. Pronger’s point totals dipped to 43 in 72 games. There was some controversy late in the season as Chris Pronger was suspended eight games after stomping on Ryan Kesler’s leg. The media called the NHL out as Chris Simon was suspended 30 games the previous season for the same reason, saying the NHL issued preferential treatment because he was an All-Star.
At the start of the 2008-09 season Chris Pronger gave the captaincy back to Scott Niedermayer. Pronger say an uptick in production during the season, recording 48 points during his first full 82-game season of his career. He played in his 1,000 career game on February 9, 2009. The Ducks went 8-5-1 in the last month-and-a-half of the season to lock up the eighth seed in the playoffs. They shocked the President Trophy-winning Sharks by beating eliminating them in six games in the opening round. The Ducks took the Red Wings to seven games in the second round, but ended up losing.
Anaheim made several moves during the 2009 offseason, including trading Chris Pronger along with Ryan Dingle to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 27, 2009 in exchange for Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa, a 2009 first round pick, and a 2010 first round pick.
10 days after the Flyers acquired Chris Pronger, they signed him to a seven-year, $34.5 million contract extension. Three weeks later the NHL launched an investigation into the contract, as it was heavily front-loaded and circumvented the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Due to Pronger signing his contract after his 35th birthday, it was deemed that his cap hit could not be removed from the Flyers salary unless he was placed on long-term injured reserve, but it would re-appear on the Flyers books during the offseason.
The Flyers went on a magical run during the 2009-10 thanks in part to Chris Pronger’s involvement on the blueline. They clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the season. The Flyers beat the Devils in the opening round, then had a historic comeback against the Bruins in the second round. They quickly dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final to make their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1997. The team lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games to end the Flyers Cinderella story run. Pronger recorded 55 points in his last full NHL season, and had his second-best NHL playoff appearance with 18 points in 23 games. It was the third time Chris Pronger had carried a team he was traded to the Stanley Cup Final.
Pronger would make his last International appearance for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He played in seven games with five assists, winning his second Gold Medal of his career.
Pronger dealt with a barrage of injures during the 2010-11 season limiting him to just 50 games. The Flyers clinched a playoff spot and made it to the second round, but got swept by the Bruins in the second round. Chris Pronger only suited up for three of the Flyers 11 playoff games.
During the 2011 offseason the Flyers traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were dealt to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov. Pronger was named captain of the Philadelphia Flyers on September 16, 2011, replacing Richards.
Pronger dealt with concussion issues during the season before a hit from Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal and a stick to the eye from Maple Leaf forward Mikhail Grabovski ended his career in December of 2011.
Chris Pronger held out hope he could return to the ice, but with the writing on the wall he stepped down as captain of the Philadelphia Flyers and the title was given to Claude Giroux in early 2013.
Due to his contract, Chris Pronger did not officially retire from hockey until the 2016-17 season as the Flyers would have been responsible for the $4.9 million cap hit he was owed during the season, instead of having the ability of putting his contract on long-term injured reserve at the beginning of every season. He remained within the Flyers organization even after the injury, taking a scouting role working closely with prospects. Pronger finished his NHL career with 1,167 NHL games, 157 goals, 541 assists, 698 points, and 1,590 penalty minutes.
Once he ruled himself out of ever playing again, he took a role with the NHL Department of Player Safety in October 2014.
On June 27, 2015 Chris Pronger’s rights were traded to the Arizona Coyotes along with Nicklas Grossmann in exchange for forward Sam Gagner and a conditional 2016 fourth round pick. This deal actually worked well for both teams as it shed the final two years of Pronger’s contract off the Flyers books and, since the contract was from loaded, it helped the Coyotes reach the Salary Cap floor while they only had to actually pay him a little over half a million dollars.
Three days after the trade, Chris Pronger was named as an induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Pronger was still technically an active player, though it had been three years since he had played a game, so he was eligible.
His contract finally expired in the summer of 2017 and he joined the Florida Panthers front office as their Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: sportswire.usatoday.com