Over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself both bewildered and amused at the reactions to Chris Pronger’s post-game puck swiping and verbal sparring with both Chicago’s Ben Eager and the media following Monday’s 2-1 victory for the Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Almost instantly, a vitriol-laced backlash against the rock-solid defenseman littered an abundance of hockey blogs throughout the web.
Frankly, I’m wondering what the fuss is all about.
We all know of Pronger’s reputation as a hockey player who treads the line between aggressive, hard-nosed hockey and malicious head-hunting. Many would say he crosses that line into the abyss of reckless abandon far too often, which places Pronger front-and-center into the conversation of “The NHL’s Dirtiest Player”. We also know he’s not exactly the most media-friendly athlete out there. Pronger can be moody. surly, and downright unpleasant to the media. Just ask the folks in Edmonton about his short-lived tenure as an Oiler.
But Pronger is also a player who also has a reputation as a leader. He’s a force to be reckoned with, an immovable object with the perfect combination of size and skill. He continues to log major minutes on the Flyers’ blueline in all situations, playing with the same tireless energy as the young man who won the Norris and Hart Trophies a decade ago. He’s always been the kind of player you hate to play against, but you’d love to have on your team. And he does whatever it takes to help lead his team to victory. I’ve come to appreciate Pronger’s play over the last several seasons, and have often wondered numerous times in that time if the unabashed hatred towards Pronger has blinded many in the hockey world to all his on-ice achievements. For that I’ve provided a brief recap:
• OHL and CHL Defenseman of the Year – 1993
• NHL All-Rookie Team – 1994
• NHL Plus/Minus Leader – 1998, 2000
• 6-Time NHL All-Star – 1999, 2000, 2001 (voted in as starter but injured), 2002, 2004, 2008
• Norris Trophy – 2000
• Hart Trophy – 2000
• NHL First All-Star Team - 2000
• NHL Second All-Star Team - 1998, 2004, 2007
• Stanley Cup champion – 2007
• St. Louis Blues captain – 1997-2003
• Anaheim Ducks captain – 2007-08
• World Junior Championship Gold Medalist – 1993
• World Championship Gold Medalist – 1997
• Olympic Gold Medalist – 2002, 2010
Despite all these accolades, many prefer to focus on this list instead. But it’s safe to say without the edge he has played with for his entire career, many of the honors listed above disappear.
Uncompromising would be the term I’d use to describe Chris Pronger. He is who he is, with no apologies to the media, fans, and the rest of the league. I’m not about to paint Chris Pronger as a cuddly, friendly, huggable player who loves kittens and daisies and ice cream. Nor will I try to make him a sympathetic figure, someone who is being unjustly portrayed as a victim being blacklisted. He clearly will never fir either of those descriptions, and he’ll go to great lengths to prove it to everyone in the hockey world.
Many disagree with Pronger’s rubber-robbing, towel-tossing tactics following Game 2 Monday night – called out as acting "crassly and dishonorably" and “childish” and by some – but they were simply a smokescreen. It was merely a mind game intended to get inside the Blackhawks’ heads as this series moved east. The results of Game 3 (a 4-3 OT win for the Flyers) indicate that Pronger’s ploy worked to an immeasurable degree, but it also backfired somewhat, as the attention has shifted from the Flyers’ do-everything D-man’s on-ice exploits (in erasing Chicago’s dynamic top line of Kane, Toews, and Byfuglien, who’ve tallied a combined 1 goal, 3 assists and a -6 rating in the series’ first 3 games) to a new off-ice controversy. And that’s just another excuse to turn him a punching bag once again. Yet all he’s done is add some spark to this series (considering both Philly’s and Chi-town’s top lines have yet to do so). After all, aren’t we all sick of hearing about the curse of Marian Hossa?
If the Flyers are to challenge Chicago in this series, Chris Pronger needs to continue to be his usual cantankerous self, whether we all like it or not. He’s been easily one of Philadelphia’s best players thus far (along with Danny Briere, who’s also impressed quite mightily in the Final), and no amount of premeditated judgment towards Pronger (and his prior mishaps) should cloud that fact. And perhaps now that Philly has cut the series deficit in half, the focus can shift back to the ice - where it belongs.