- Category : Hockey Player
- Type : GP
- Profile : 2/5 - Hermit / Heretic
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Penetration 3
Christopher Robert Pronger (born October 10, 1974) is a Canadian professional ice hockey defenceman with the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League (NHL). Pronger has not played since November 2011 because of post-concussion syndrome after three separate hits.
Originally selected 2nd 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 Flyers before the 2009–10 season, having also captained the Blues and Ducks during 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 since Bobby Orr in 1972. 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. Pronger is also one of only two former Whalers still active in the NHL (the other is goaltender Jean-Sébastien Giguère of the Colorado Avalanche).
Pronger was born in Dryden to Jim and Eila Pronger, an immigrant from Finland. Before entering the Junior ranks in Ontario he grew up playing minor hockey in his hometown. As a 15-year-old, he was identified through the Ontario U-17 program 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 was 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 6th 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."
Hartford Whalers and St. Louis Blues
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. However, 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 also involved a Whalers assistant coach), and then being arrested for drunk driving in Ohio three days after his rookie season ended, leading some to consider Pronger impatient and immature. 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 was 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). After a second season in Hartford, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues for star forward Brendan Shanahan on July 27, 1995.
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.
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 also had a brief cardiac arrest during the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he was hit in the chest with a puck in a game against the Detroit Red Wings. Prior to 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 also 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.
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 during 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, while media outlets reported that Pronger's wife, Lauren, was not happy in Edmonton. The controversy surrounding Pronger's trade request has led many to describe him as "Public Enemy No.1" in Edmonton. On July 3, Pronger was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Joffrey Lupul, defensive prospect Ladislav Šmíd, Anaheim's 2007 first-round draft pick (traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, picked Nick Ross), a conditional first-round draft pick (dependent on the Ducks reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in the next 3 years, which they did, becoming forward Jordan Eberle), and Anaheim's 2008 second-round draft pick (later traded to the New York Islanders).
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 also Pronger's second straight finals appearance. During the Conference Finals, Pronger was suspended for one game for a check on Detroit Red Wings winger Tomas Holmström. He later criticized the Canadian media's coverage of the incident. In the final round, Pronger was suspended for one game for elbowing Ottawa Senators winger Dean McAmmond in the head during game 3. 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. 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 was not injured, and upon initial review the NHL did not suspend Pronger. However, upon new video evidence, which provided a better angle, the league once again reviewed the incident and gave Pronger an 8-game suspension. He returned to the ice April 6 against the Phoenix Coyotes in Anaheim's last regular season game of the year.
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 8th 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.
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 draft picks and a conditional third round draft pick. Ten days later, Pronger signed a seven-year contract extension that will most likely see him finish his career in Philadelphia. 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 is front-loaded, with annual salaries of just $525,000 in the final two years, and expires by the time Pronger is 42, the investigation was launched with the focus on the potential of negotiations between Pronger and the Flyers to retire before contract expiration. However, as Pronger's contract took effect after his 35th birthday, under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, his over-35 contract cannot be deleted from the Flyers' cap space unless he is placed on long-term injured reserve, and even then it would come back on the team's cap space during 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. 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. However, a playoff run marked by an upset of the New Jersey Devils, an astounding comeback against the Boston Bruins from down 0–3 in the series and a thumping of the Montreal Canadiens would culminate in the Flyers playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. Though the Flyers lost 4–2, it was another achievement for Pronger who had a strong playoff performance and lead a team that traded for him to the Finals for the third time in a row. Conversely, his former team continued another bizarre streak, as the Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs. No team that traded Pronger away qualified for the playoffs the following year. Since being traded to the Blues, Pronger has made the playoffs with every team that he has played for and in every season he has played.
Following the playoffs, Pronger underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. Pronger missed the first two games of the 2010–11 season. Various other injuries would limit Pronger to just 50 games, marking the first time that Pronger missed significant time since the 2002–03 season, where Pronger missed 77 games. On September 16, 2011, Pronger was named the 18th captain in Philadelphia Flyers history, replacing Mike Richards, traded to the Los Angeles Kings just before the 2011 draft. However, 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. 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.
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. He lived in Irvine, California, while playing for the Anaheim Ducks. Pronger resided 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.