The game of hockey misses Chris Pronger on the ice and in the dressing room.
The Philadelphia Flyers miss the 6-foot-6 defenceman. They miss his talent, his leadership and, like those of us who know him, his sense of humour. The Flyers have never been the same since he made his hasty exit from the game on Nov. 19, 2011.
He had darted off the ice, shrieking in pain after taking a stick in the right eye area on a follow-through from opponent Mikhail Grabovski a few weeks before his final game. He then returned and absorbed a hit into the glass from Phoenix Coyotes forward Martin Hanzel on Nov. 17, 2011.
Pronger tried to continue to play, but it was apparent something wasn't right. He later was diagnosed with an ocular concussion and, although he feels better, he still suffers headaches nearly two years later.
A true character, quick with a quip, Pronger was in the news again this week when Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren uttered what we all have known for almost two years, that his big stud's playing days are finished.
"I'll say it, Chris is never going to play again," Holmgren told The Hockey News. "I have no problems saying it."
There, it's finally out there in an unofficial-official sort of way. Pronger, who celebrated his 39th birthday last week, likely won't officially retire because of the salary cap ramifications to the Flyers.
His seven-year contract, which has a cap hit of $4.94 million US and expires following the 2016-17 season, was signed after he turned 35. Under NHL rules, players who sign multi-year deals at age 35 or older count toward a team's salary cap for the duration of the contract, whether or not they are playing.
The Flyers receive salary cap relief by placing Pronger on the long-term injured list at the beginning of each season. The native of Dryden, Ont., also benefits because he collects the rest of his contract. So this charade will go on for another four years.
'Highs and lows'
In the meantime, Pronger will continue to work for the Flyers as a roving scout. He has watched, live or on video, the pro game for the Flyers as well as junior and United States collegiate games, too. He sits in management meetings. Why not tap the same smarts Pronger exhibited on the ice and in the dressing room, in the boardroom?
There is no doubt, if he chooses, Pronger can follow the path of superstars-turned-team-executives in the NHL like Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Cam Neely and Rob Blake. But he has time to find his way.
There also will be a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible. His impressive portfolio includes a Hart Trophy, a Norris Trophy, a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a world championship and a world junior championship.
He played in 1,340 combined NHL playoff and regular-season games, another 34 games internationally for Canada and he always performed better in the bigger games.
But first things first, he still has a recovery to make.
"It's a process," he told a group of reporters in Philadelphia during training camp last month. "Some days are still a little erratic. You have highs and lows, but my therapy is going pretty well. My eye treatment has progressed along.
"We're moving in the right direction. Obviously, I'm still having some significant issues. I went on the ice a couple weeks ago with my kids.
"Moving in a straight line slowly was OK. You start turning and spinning and things like that, and you get lightheaded and dizzy and you start having some of those symptoms and you get brought back down to the real world, real quick. You start realizing there's still a lot of work to be done."
Hopefully, Pronger also will realize that the game needs him to stick around.
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