DETROIT – In March 2008, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger stomped on the leg of Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler. As the video shows, Kesler finishes a check on Pronger and falls down. Kesler traps Pronger’s right skate between his legs. Pronger lifts his right skate to break free – then lifts it again and drives his blade into Kesler’s left calf.
“The league will take care of it,” Kesler said then.
The NHL did, suspending Pronger for eight games. It was the last and longest suspension of Pronger’s notorious career. He had already been suspended seven times – slashing, high-sticking, leaving the bench to join an altercation, cross-checking, kicking, a hit to the head, another hit to the head.
So what does Kesler think about Pronger joining the NHL’s department of player safety? When the league takes care of it now, Pronger will be a part of it?
“Obviously he’s played the game,” said Kesler, now a member of the Ducks, after practice Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “You want someone in that position who’s played the game and understands what goes on. He’s going to do a good job.”
Wait. Kesler thinks Pronger will do a good job even though Pronger stomped on his leg?
“That was when he played,” Kesler said. “He’s older now, and he’s in a position where he’s seen what goes on. It’s not what he’s done in the past; it’s that he’s played the game. You don’t want somebody that hasn’t played the game throwing out suspensions, because to be honest, I don’t think anybody should throw out suspensions unless they’ve been out there and they’ve played. I like the move.”
That’s actually the exact thinking behind adding Pronger to the DPS. Again, if you want to build a better safe, hire a safe-cracker. Pronger would understand the mentality of players who break the rules because he broke them himself – just like former disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan and new disciplinarian Stephane Quintal. (For the record, Pronger wouldn’t be throwing out suspensions. He would be one of a group of people providing input to Quintal, who makes the final decisions.)
“Shanahan did the same thing,” said Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who played with Pronger in Anaheim. “He was a dirty player, and he had the job for a few years. I think these guys know what they’re doing. They’ve been through it. They know how we think and how we play. They can read off what we do. I know him as a person. He’s a fair guy.”
“He played the game right on the edge, that’s for sure,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, another former teammate. “He definitely knows that line for sure. I think as he’s stepped away from the game, he’s probably learned more and more about it.”
Getzlaf remains friends with Pronger, whose career ended because of concussions. Getzlaf said he didn’t know whether that gave Pronger a different perspective on head trauma in particular and player safety in general. But he said he knows what Pronger has gone through and that “he seems to be in a better place now than he was.”
What about the conflict-of-interest issue?
Pronger hasn’t technically retired. He’s still being paid by the Philadelphia Flyers, who have him on long-term injured reserve for salary-cap reasons. He has three years left on the deal he signed in 2010 at $4 million, $575,000 and $575,000.
He hasn’t played since November 2011 and has no role with the Flyers. He would not provide input on incidents involving the Flyers. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has given his blessing. But the collective bargaining agreement says a player can’t be paid by a team and the league at the same time, and the NHL Players’ Association has been involved.
Doesn’t that bother anybody?
“No,” Kesler said. “Unfortunately he got injured and can’t play. It’s good for him to stay in the game and hopefully help make the game safer.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t really bother me,” Beauchemin said. “I know him. I know he’s just going to look at the videos and make the decisions by the plays. I don’t think it’s going to matter if it’s a Flyers guy or not. He’s an honest person, and he’s going to make the right calls.”
“My only conflict would be that he’s being paid by Philly, and I don’t know how that all worked out,” Getzlaf said. “I don’t know what’s going on with that situation. I haven’t paid enough attention. Other than that, I would expect Chris to hold everybody to the same standard.”
Getzlaf compared this to when Pronger was one of the Ducks’ leaders. Pronger was a key part of their Stanley Cup championship team in 2006-07. He was captain in 2007-08.
“The one thing about Prongs is, he’s never played favorites,” Getzlaf said. “He’s never done anything like that. Even if you’re his best friend, if you screw up, he’s going to let you know about it. If he takes that same approach to that job, I think that you can get a level of consistency, I hope, that no matter if you’re the top-tier guy or a fourth-line guy, you’re held to the same standard.”