Christopher Robert Pronger (/ˈprɒŋɡər/ or /ˈprɒŋər/; born October 10, 1974) is a Canadian professional ice hockey defenceman who's currently under contract with the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League (NHL). He hasn't played after November 2011 due to post-concussion syndrome related to three separate hits suffered throughout his career; he additionally suffers from vision impairment due to being hit in the eye(s) by the blade of another player's stick. Though not officially retired, he's not expected to play again.[2] In October 2014, Pronger signed a contract with the NHL to assist its Player Safety Division, although he's excused from any decisions directly affecting the Coyotes, with whom he still remains under a player contract.

Originally selected second overall by the Hartford Whalers in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Pronger has played for Hartford, the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, and Anaheim Ducks before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers before the 2009–10 season, having additionally captained the Blues and Ducks throughout that time. He has appeared in the Stanley Cup finals with three different teams (Edmonton, Anaheim, and Philadelphia), winning the Cup with the Ducks in 2007. Pronger won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player for the 1999–2000 season and was the first defenceman to win the award after Bobby Orr in 1972. Pronger was additionally considered one of the NHL's dirtier players and has been suspended eight times.[3] A mainstay on Team Canada, Pronger won Olympic gold medals at Salt Lake City 2002 and Vancouver 2010 and is a member of the Triple Gold Club.

Playing career

Early years

Pronger began life in Dryden to Jim and Eila Pronger, an immigrant from Pori, Finland. Before entering the Junior ranks in Ontario he grew up playing minor hockey in his hometown. As a 15-year-old, he had been identified through the Ontario U-17 programme and signed with the Stratford Cullitons Jr. B (OHA) club for the 1990–91 season. One of his defence partners in Stratford was future NHLer Greg DeVries.

In May 1991, Pronger indicated he had been going to join his older brother Sean at Bowling Green State University (NCAA) instead of opting for the OHL. Regardless of his pre-draft indications, Pronger was selected in the sixth round by the Peterborough Petes in the OHL Priority Selection. He subsequently reported to the Petes and played two years in the OHL before being selected in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.

After two outstanding seasons with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and because of being highly regarded for his rare combination of imposing size, speed, offensive skill (particularly on the power play) and physicality as a defenceman, Pronger was selected second overall by the Hartford Whalers in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, behind Alexandre Daigle, who made the infamous statement, "I'm glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two."[4]

Hartford Whalers

He made his debut in the 1993–94 NHL season, playing 81 games for the Whalers and earning a spot on the NHL All-Rookie Team. Notwithstanding Pronger was one of multiple Whalers that season with off-ice issues, being one of six Whalers players arrested for a barroom brawl in Buffalo in late March (the brawl additionally involved a Whalers assistant coach), and then being arrested for drunk driving in Ohio three days after his rookie season ended, leading a few to consider Pronger impatient and immature.[6] On his rookie season, then-teammate Kelly Chase noted, "You could see [Pronger] had talent, but it was a ho-hum thing. He really didn't have any direction. He had been under a lot of pressure and just wasn't ready for the responsibility. Of course that team wasn't exactly overloaded with players who knew how to win" (the Whalers finished next-to-last in the Eastern Conference that season).[7] After a second season in Hartford, he had been traded to the St. Louis Blues for star forward Brendan Shanahan on July 27, 1995.

St. Louis Blues

In the early years of his St. Louis career, Pronger played under coach and general manager Mike Keenan who insisted on Pronger improving his conditioning and reducing his mistakes. Late in his first season, the acquisition of Wayne Gretzky took pressure off of Pronger, which combined with Keenan's practices, allowed Pronger to concentrate on improving his defensive play.[7]

In his third season with St. Louis and first as team captain following the departure of Brett Hull as a free agent, Pronger was again named to the All-Star team. That year Pronger additionally had a brief cardiac arrest throughout the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he had been hit in the chest with a puck in a game against the Detroit Red Wings.[8] Before this he played for the Canadian Olympic team in Nagano. In 1999–2000, Pronger recorded a career-high 62 points and a +52 rating. His efforts culminated in a Norris and Hart Trophy at the end of the season. Pronger beat Art Ross winner Jaromír Jágr by just one point in Hart Trophy voting, which was, at the time, the smallest margin of victory in the history of the award. (Two years later, Jarome Iginla and José Théodore tied in overall voting; Théodore won with more first-place votes.) Pronger was additionally named to the First All-Star Team.

Pronger notched 47 points the next season, but appeared in only 51 games due to injury problems. In February 2002, he won a gold medal with the Canadian Olympic Team in the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. That same year in the NHL, he had another fine season and played in the All-Star Game once again. But injuries became a problem again in 2002–03, limiting him to just five games played (during which time, Al MacInnis replaced him as captain). Pronger bounced back with another quality season in 2003–04 (when he re-assumed the captaincy after MacInnis suffered a career-ending injury). Following the 2004–05 NHL lockout and imposition of the NHL salary cap, the Blues traded Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers for defencemen Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch. While the Blues needed to reduce team salaries to make it easier to sell the team, the Oilers were able to sign Pronger to a five-year, $31.25 million contract.

Edmonton Oilers

Pronger was selected to play for Team Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics, marking his third consecutive Olympic Games. The Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Final that same year. On June 5, 2006, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes, Pronger became the first player in NHL history to score a penalty shot goal in a Stanley Cup Final game. The Oilers lost in game seven, with Pronger scoring a team-leading 21 points (5 goals, 16 assists) in 24 games, as well as a team leading plus/minus rating of +10 throughout the playoffs.

On June 23, 2006, Pronger requested a trade through his agent, Pat Morris, from the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe said that the request was due to personal reasons,[9] while media outlets[10][2] reported that Pronger's wife, Lauren, wasn't happy in Edmonton. The controversy surrounding Pronger's trade request has led a large number of to describe him as "Public Enemy No.1" in Edmonton.[2][2][14][15] On July 3, Pronger was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Joffrey Lupul, defensive prospect Ladislav Šmíd, Anaheim's 2007 first-round draught pick (traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, picked Nick Ross), a conditional first-round draught pick (dependent on the Ducks reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in the next 3 years, which they did, fitting forward Jordan Eberle),[2] and Anaheim's 2008 second-round draught pick (later traded to the New York Islanders).

Anaheim Ducks

In 2007, Pronger played an important role for the Ducks run as they reached the Stanley Cup Finals and later won the championship. It was additionally Pronger's second straight finals appearance. Throughout the Conference Finals, Pronger was suspended for one game for a cheque on Detroit Red Wings winger Tomas Holmström.[2] He later criticised the Canadian media's coverage of the incident.[2] In the final round, Pronger was suspended for one game for elbowing Ottawa Senators winger Dean McAmmond in the head throughout game 3.[2] With the Stanley Cup victory he became a member of the Triple Gold Club.

On September 28, 2007, Pronger was named the captain of the Ducks, replacing Scott Niedermayer.[15][20] Although Niedermayer returned to the lineup later in the season, Pronger remained captain until the start of next season when Niedermayer was renamed captain. Pronger retained a role as alternate captain.

On March 12, 2008, Pronger was involved in an incident with Vancouver's Ryan Kesler. Pronger, after being tangled up with Kesler behind the Anaheim blue line, stomped unnecessarily on Kesler's leg. Kesler wasn't injured, and upon initial review the NHL didn't suspend Pronger. Notwithstanding upon new video evidence, which provided a better angle, the league once again reviewed the incident and gave Pronger an 8-game suspension. The suspension was criticised by a few as insufficient, as Chris Simon had received a 30-game suspension for a stomp the previous year, with a few suggesting that the league gave preferential treatment towards Pronger as a league MVP and an "ambassador for the game".[3] He returned to the ice April 6 against the Phoenix Coyotes in Anaheim's last regular season game of the year.[23]

The 2008–09 season was quite successful for Pronger who played his 1000th career game on February 20, 2009. The Ducks would rally late in the season to jump into eighth place of the Western conference. They dispatched the President's Trophy winner San Jose Sharks in six games before falling to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games. Pronger had 2 goals and 8 assists in 13 playoff games.

Philadelphia Flyers

On June 27, 2009, Pronger, along with forward Ryan Dingle, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Lupul (earlier traded to Edmonton for Pronger in 2006), defenceman Luca Sbisa, two first round draught picks and a conditional third round draught pick. Ten days later, Pronger signed a seven-year contract extension.[3] Nearly a month after signing, the NHL announced they had launched an investigation on Pronger's deal to determine whether it was a circumvention of the salary cap under the collective bargaining agreement. Because the contract was front-loaded, with annual salaries of just $525,000 in the final two years, and expired by the time Pronger turned 42, the investigation was launched with the focus on the potential of negotiations between Pronger and the Flyers to retire before contract expiration.[3] Notwithstanding as Pronger's contract took effect after his 35th birthday, under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, his over-35 contract can't be deleted from the Flyers' cap space unless he's placed on long-term injured reserve, and even then it would come back on the team's cap space throughout the offseason.

On December 30, 2009, Pronger was selected to play for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He served as one of the team's alternate captains, along with Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla.[3] The team won the gold-medal that year. Pronger became the leader for most Olympic games played for Canada after playing his 25th Olympic game on February 28, 2010.

In the NHL regular season, the Flyers qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the season with a shootout win against the New York Rangers. A playoff run marked by an upset of the New Jersey Devils, a historic comeback against the Boston Bruins from down 0–3 in the series and a five-game win over the Montreal Canadiens culminated in the Flyers playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. Though the Flyers lost the series 4–2, Pronger had a strong playoff performance and led a team that traded for him to the Finals for the third time in a row. Conversely, no team that traded Pronger away qualified for the playoffs the following year.

Following the playoffs, Pronger underwent arthroscopic knee surgery.[3] Pronger missed the first two games of the 2010–11 season. Various additional injuries would limit Pronger to just 50 games, marking the first time that Pronger missed significant time after the 2002–03 season, where Pronger missed 77 games. On September 16, 2011, Pronger was named the eighteenth captain in Philadelphia Flyers history, replacing Mike Richards, traded to the Los Angeles Kings just before the 2011 draft. Notwithstanding multiple hits resulting in post-concussion syndrome (the last being a collision with Martin Hanzal, who like Pronger is 6'6") limited Pronger to 13 games before Pronger was shut down for the season in mid-December, with the post-concussion syndrome placing Pronger's career in jeopardy. Pronger additionally had problems in his right eye after being struck by the stick of Mikhail Grabovski in October 2011.

With a resumption of his playing career looking unlikely, Pronger stepped down as team captain and was succeeded by Claude Giroux on January 15, 2013.[3] Pronger's contract runs through the 2016-17 season; he'll not retire as a player until then. He had been 35 years old before the contract began, so the Flyers are on the hook for the $4.9 million cost against the salary cap each season, though they have been able to receive relief by placing Pronger on long-term injured reserve at the start of each season. Had Pronger retired officially, the Flyers would lose that ability and his contract would count fully against the cap, furthermore he wouldn't receive the rest of the salary owed to him from the contract which was $12.15 million at the start of the 2013-14 season. [3] While no longer an on-ice player, Pronger still remained with the Flyers at the management level helping to scout and interview prospects.

Arizona Coyotes

On June 27, 2015, the Philadelphia Flyers included Pronger's contract in a trade, alongside Nicklas Grossmann, to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Sam Gagner and a conditional pick. The deal was made to the benefit of salary cap implications to each club, and Pronger isn't expected to play for the team.[3] Three days later, on June 30, 2015, he had been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame; as the Hall only counts games played as its criteria for the minimum waiting period, Pronger was eligible for induction even though he's still technically an active player, as he hadn't played a game in three full seasons at the time of his induction.[31]

Personal life

He and his wife Lauren have two sons, Jack Hunter (born 2001) and George William (born 2004), and one daughter, Lilah Marie, who was born on July 23, 2008.[4][4] He lived in Irvine, California, while playing for the Anaheim Ducks.[4] and in Haddonfield, New Jersey, while playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. In the 2012-2013 season, with prospects for playing again unlikely, Pronger moved back to St. Louis. He appears on the cover of NHL Hitz 2003 and NHL 2000.

Transactions

Awards

Career statistics

Regular season and playoffs

  Regular season Playoffs
SeasonTeamLeagueGPGAPtsPIMGPGAPtsPIM
1991–92Peterborough PetesOHL63174562901018928
1992–93Peterborough PetesOHL611562771082115254051
1993–94Hartford WhalersNHL8152530113
1994–95Hartford WhalersNHL43591454
1995–96St. Louis BluesNHL78718251101315616
1996–97St. Louis BluesNHL79112435143611222
1997–98St. Louis BluesNHL819273618010191026
1998–99St. Louis BluesNHL671333461131314528
1999–00St. Louis BluesNHL7914486292734732
2000–01St. Louis BluesNHL5183947751517832
2001–02St. Louis BluesNHL7874047120917824
2002–03St. Louis BluesNHL513410713414
2003–04St. Louis BluesNHL8014405488501116
2005–06Edmonton OilersNHL8012445674245162126
2006–07Anaheim DucksNHL6613465969193121526
2007–08Anaheim DucksNHL72123143128623512
2008–09Anaheim DucksNHL821137488813281012
2009–10Philadelphia FlyersNHL8210455579234141836
2010–11Philadelphia FlyersNHL50421254430114
2011–12Philadelphia FlyersNHL131111210
NHL totals116715754169815901732695121326

International

YearTeamEventResult GPGAPtsPIM
1993CanadaWJC1st71346
1997CanadaWC1st90224
1998CanadaOG4th60004
2002CanadaOG1st60112
2006CanadaOG7th612316
2010CanadaOG1st70552
Junior totals71346
Senior totals341101136

All-Star Games

YearLocation GAPts
1999Tampa Bay022
2000Toronto000
2001Colorado
2002Los Angeles011
2004Minnesota000
2008Atlanta000
All-Star totals033

Suspensions

Oct. 29, 1995: with St. Louis — four games, slashing (Washington’s Pat Peake)
Dec. 17, 1998: with St. Louis — four games, high stick (Phoenix’s Jeremy Roenick)
Oct. 11, 2000: with St. Louis — one game, leaving bench for altercation (Los Angeles’ Kelly Buchberger)
April 3, 2002: with St. Louis — two games, cross-check (Dallas' Brenden Morrow)
March 14, 2004: with St. Louis — one game, kicking (Calgary’s Ville Nieminen)
May 15, 2007: with Anaheim — one playoff game, blow to the head (Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom)
June 3, 2007: with Anaheim — one playoff game, blow to the head (Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond)
March 12, 2008: with Anaheim — eight games, stomping on the leg (Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler)