The 18-year NHL veteran, whose season ended in mid-December as a result of post-concussion symptoms, remains an enormous on-ice question mark for the Orange and Black.
When healthy, Pronger is a tower of power on the back end capable of contributing offensively while completely neutralizing the opposition's best players. But, after repeated bouts with post-concussion symptoms, the six-time All-Star's long-term health remains in serious jeopardy.
It's never a good sign when an athlete declares his season over just two months into the campaign. And the situation becomes even worse when it involves injuries to the head. For Pronger and the Flyers, it's impossible to predict his on-ice readiness for next season when neither party knows what tomorrow will bring.
With that kind of uncertainty hanging over an individual's health and his future as both a husband and a father, Chris Pronger needs to have played his last NHL game. That's easier said than done.
Being an NHL defenseman is all the 6'6", 220-pound native of Dryden, Ontario has known for nearly 20 years. It can't and won't be easy to walk away. The fact remains, it's what needs to happen and is very likely what will happen.
Pronger's professional resume is jaw-dropping:
18 years of NHL service. 1,167 games played producing 157 goals, 541 assists and 698 points (average 0.60 points/game). 173 career playoff games having produced 26 goals, 95 assists and 121 points (avg. 0.70 points/game). Three times a captain (St. Louis, Anaheim, Philadelphia) and three trips to the Stanley Cup finals in a five-year window (Edmonton - 2006, Anaheim - 2007, Philadelphia - 2010).
Now take a look at his trophy case:
Stanley Cup champion in 2007. Hart Trophy (MVP) for the 1999-2000 season (first defenseman since Bobby Orr in 1972 to be named league MVP). Norris Trophy (top defenseman) winner the same year. Olympic gold medalist in 2002 and 2010. Member of the Triple Gold Club (Olympic gold, Stanley Cup, World Championship gold).
And then you stumble upon great trivia nuggets like this—no team that has traded Pronger has ever made the playoffs the following season.
In short, Pronger is a first ballot, slam dunk future Hall of Famer today. The former second overall selection in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft has exceeded expectations and cemented a legacy as one of the game's greatest defenders.
Flyers owner Ed Snider recently said if Pronger, along with also-injured defenseman Andrej Meszaros, were still healthy it would be the Flyers preparing to hoist Lord Stanley's cup. That shows the value a 38-year-old Pronger still brings to an NHL franchise.
But both he and the Flyers will need to find a new way to tap into that value next season. A team plagued with defensive lapses throughout the season, Philadelphia could use an off-ice mentor to help a defense corps that is sure to see some changes come about this offseason.
Moreover, Pronger's playoff and Stanley Cup Finals experience could prove invaluable to a young team that appears on the cusp of greatness.
It isn't unheard of to see an injured player still under contract serving his team in this sort of capacity. Heck, the Flyers did it themselves just two years ago when Ian Laperriere (also forced out of action as a result of concussions) hung up the skates for the entire 2010-2011 season before continuing to serve the team off the ice en route to the 2011 Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Of course, this wasn't the role Pronger or the Flyers were envisioning when they collectively inked a seven-year contract extension back in the summer of 2009. Sadly though, it's the role they must both now plan to embrace.
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