Chris Pronger's long and storied NHL career appears to have fallen victim to a rampant problem in the NHL today. No, not the lockout -- concussions. Here's a look back at his career with the Blues.
Chris Pronger's a lot of things. To some people, he's a dirty player, capable of a skate-stomp. To others, he's the consummate smart-ass, stealing pucks and giving great post-game interviews. To Blues fans he's the gift of the Brendan Shanahan trade to the Hartford Whalers, and the painful reminder of what could have been had it not been for Bill Laurie and his fire-sale mentality.
Pronger made up half of one of the greatest defensive pairings in the game with Al MacInnis, captaining the Blues to their only Presidents Trophy in 1999-2000. Unfortunately for Blues fans, the owner at the time, Laurie, was more interested in bringing basketball to St. Louis (note: he failed) than he was in owning a hockey team. To make the Blues more desirable to own -- or, as reality would have it, just cheaper to own -- he sold off expensive contracts. Chris Pronger was traded away in 2005, just before the first post-lockout season began, for Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch. Brewer eventually took over for the captain he was traded for, and such was the vitriol that some Blues fans abhorred him for no reason other than that trade until he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That is how great the respect is for Pronger in St. Louis. When you have fans disliking a guy you were traded for six years after that trade went down, that's some sort of loyalty. It was pretty heartbreaking for fans here to see Pronger lead the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, and then to watch him win the Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 was even rougher. Wherever Pronger went after St. Louis, it was as though he was destined to lead that team to whatever greatness he should have lead the Blues. It was very bittersweet to watch him in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, doing what he does best.
Sadly, that last sentence might just as well "doing what he did best," because it looks like Pronger's career is over. Nineteen years after he was drafted second overall by the Hartford Whalers, Pronger and his family have moved back to St. Louis. They didn't do this to bide time while the lockout was going on. No, instead, according to Sam Carchidi of Philly.com, Pronger probably has moved back as a sign of a career ended too soon by injury.
Pronger was concussed in 2011 following a hit with Martin Hanzal. It was initially believed that Pronger could eventually work back from the post-concussion syndrome and eye injury to captain the Flyers this season, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Much like Al MacInnis, whose eye injury in 2003 and the following lockout forced his retirement, Pronger's career appears to be over.
The player who once gave his captaincy over to MacInnis permanently upon return from his broken arm, the guy who got under Blackhawks fans' skin, the player whose booming hits and shots electrified Blues fans may very well be done with his career. It's sad to see any career end this way, but for folks in St. Louis, it's especially disheartening. We always like to crow about how former athletes like to return here for retirement, regardless of if they finished their career here. This time, though, it just doesn't seem right. Maybe if his career ended on his own terms, but not this way.