Philly Sports Live

Chris Pronger bends the rules one last time (Puck Daddy)

Chris Pronger was asked about it several ways, but he wasn’t going to acknowledge it.  How surreal it was to still have an active NHL contract and be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. How surreal it was to actually have been involved in an NHL trade less than 48 hours before his selection. How surreal it was to have the gatekeepers to immortality change their bylaws to grant him access, because his circumstances – a stick to the head in 2011 and post-concussion syndrome ended his career, but not his contract – were extraordinary. “I think nothing I’ve done has been the easy way. I guess this would follow suit,” was the best he could muster. All of it must be humbling for Pronger. And awkward. And frustrating. Were it not for a Collective Bargaining Agreement that has more loophole’s than grandma’s knitting, the games being played with his contract would cease. Were it not for the injury, he would still be patrolling a blueline somewhere, elbows out, stick ready to turn opponents into a kabob. Or maybe he wouldn’t still play that way. He is, of course, an employee of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. He understands what is and isn’t allowed. If a player today played like the Pronger of the eight suspensions? “I don’t know if you could,” he said with a chuckle, during a Hockey Hall of Fame conference call. “They might be in front of me if they did.” It’s surreal that Chris Pronger is now paid to prevent future Chris Prongers from hatching and menacing the NHL. It’s surreal that Chris Pronger is an NHL employee, while getting paid on an active NHL player contract. It’s surreal that Chris Pronger is an NHL employee, getting paid on an active NHL player contract, and will be a name featured on the Arizona Coyotes roster on his induction day for the Hockey Hall of Fame – a team the NHL, his employer, recently sold to its current owners. C’mon, Chris, this is a little absurd, right?  “Someone told me they were thinking about changing the bylaws, and letting injured players that were still under contract to be able to go into the Hall of Fame. I knew at that point I had been out for three and a half years. I was excited to hear the news,” said Pronger. All of the wacky details of his Hall of Fame journey aside, let’s be real: Pronger is a quintessential Hall of Famer. He was unique: 6 foot 6 with underrated speed, offensive flair and a bludgeoning defensive style that would cross the line more often than a clumsy bowler. Winner of the Hart Trophy. Winner of the Norris Trophy. Winner of the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks. “When I first got there, Scott Niedermayer was the only one that had won a Cup,” he said. “There was a burning desire to get back there and win one. It wasn’t to have 100 points or win the Norris Trophy. It was to win the Stanley Cup.” There are two things that’ll stick with me about Pronger, and one of them isn’t that Cup – it’s the Cups he didn’t win. His run with the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 was Herculean. I can’t recall a defenseman placing his team on his back like that in a run to the Final. Had it not been for Cam Ward getting his Dryden on, Pronger wins the Conn Smythe in a losing effort. His run with the Philadelphia Flyers, through three rounds, was equally incredible. He wasn’t as effective in the last round against the Chicago Blackhawks on the ice, but his off-ice shenanigans – remember the stolen puck? – were a different kind of leadership. Again, he came close to winning MVP in a losing effort, which is amazing once and unprecedented twice. But the second thing I’ll remember about Pronger was that, in his words, he played “Flyers hockey”: Win at all costs, intimidate the other guy, inflict as much pain no matter the consequences. Yes, his flurry of elbows literally wouldn’t fly in today’s NHL. No, skate-stomping an opponent is generally frowned upon. But there was always a disconnect between how we reacted to his villainy and how his teammates reacted to it. I remember talking to a then-recently retired player when the Flyers acquired Pronger in 2009 during the NHL Draft – a then-enormous price paid in response to the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. I asked him how a player like Pronger would be received in the locker room, considering his lack of concern of his fellow man’s safety and wellbeing. “They’ll love him,” he said, “because he does those things so we don’t have to.” And say this about Pronger: No one else relished the role as much as he did.   MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY