Chris Pronger is arguably one of the best hockey defensemen currently playing in the NHL. His tall stature and physical play is intimidating, his respect for his fellow teammates is high, and his heart is fully in the game. This presence he has on the ice makes sure everybody notices when he steps out onto the ice and when he does not.
Pronger was born on October 10, 1974 in Dryden, Ontario, stands a monstrous 6 feet, 6 inches tall and shoots left. His jersey number, at least in the NHL, has always been #44. He was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in the 1993 Entry Draft. Chris was Hartford's first choice and second overall in the draft. As of the end of the 2005-2006 season, Pronger has earned 106 goals, 350 assists (for a total of 456 points), and a whopping 1172 penalty minutes in 802 games played. He also has 72 points in 109 playoff games (15G, 57A).
Chris Pronger began his NHL career as a Hartford Whaler, the team that drafted him. In the 1993-1994 season, his first full season in the NHL, he led all Whalers defensemen with 30 points (5G, 35A). He appeared in in his very first NHL game on October 6, 1993 at Montreal and recorded his first NHL point - an assist - on October 9, 1993 against Philly. His first goal, however, took place on November 6, 1993 at Long Island. He was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was also took home the Whalers' Most Valuable Defenseman Award.
After an impressive first year, Chris Pronger played just 43 games in the Lock-Out Shortened Season of '94-'95 but still collected five goals and nine assists. He was tied for the team lead in power play goals by a defenseman with 3. This young, energetic, firecracker of a player who had a nose for the net but an immature temper that often brought him to the penalty box, was supposed to finally help bring Hartford to the Promised Land. Indeed, Lord Stanley's Cup was a trophy that the Whalers had yet to even get a sniff of. In fact, if something wasn't done soon, Hartford was going to lose their franchise to another city, something that did happen in 1997 when they became the Carolina Hurricanes.
But the Whalers gave up on the promising young might-be-a-star-someday-but-might-not and decided to trade him. This brought Pronger to St. Louis in one of the most famous Blues, revered, reviled, and remembered trades in the club's history. On July 27, 1995, then-GM and coach Mike Keenan did the unthinkable: traded away one of the most talented, congenial, soulful, offensive sniper, the darling of all Blues fans, Brendan Shanahan in exchange for the young, hot-tempered, immature, unproven Chris Pronger. Fans all over the Gateway City were outraged, disgusted, and generally unhappy about the move. It was all over the media and proved to be one of the moves that brought most St. Louisans to despise "Iron" Mike Keenan and call for his head on a platter.
But hardly anybody, perhaps absolutely nobody, knew exactly how good that deal was at the time.
The very beginning of the 1995-1996 season began on a low note for Chris. As soon as he stepped out onto the ice for the first time at the Kiel Center in St. Louis for the opening game of the season he was practically booed off of the ice by fans still sore over the Shanahan deal. Also booed that night was Mike Keenan. This did nothing for Pronger's confidence and it showed in his early play. Yes, at times it appeared he didn't know what the hell was going on, and yes he took a lot of ridiculously stupid penalties in that season, but he did tally up a respectable 25 points (5G, 18A). For the first half of the season, the attention and pressure was on him, fans were consistently demanding that he show that he was worth the trade, but most of that went away midway through the season when one of the other most famous Blues trades occured: the deal that brought The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, to the Gateway City.
During Gretzky's brief reign at the helm of the Blues players, with the attention off of him for once, Chris Pronger began to shine and showed glimpses of the great defenseman he was to become. While still taking stupid penalties and mystifying fans with an occasional short attention span, he showed moments of brilliance in the 1996 playoffs that brought the Blues to the Western Coference semifinals where they lost in Game 7, 1-0, in double overtime, to the Detroit Red Wings.
In the following 1996-1997 season he scored career highs in points, goals, and penalty minutes (35, 24, 143 respectively) and lead the team with a +15 rating. After Gretzky's unceremonious departure for New York, the Blues were left without a captain. Keenan, who was fired in December 1996 after an abysmal 8-0 loss at home to Vancouver, did not name a captain for that season, and when current Blues head coach Joel Quenneville took over he did not name one, either. Instead "A"s, or altnernate captaincies, were alternated between Al MacInnis, Pierre Turgeon, Brett Hull, and Shayne Corson (who was dealt early in that season). In fact, Chris Pronger wore that "A" on his jersey a couple of times in lieu of one of those players being injured. After the end of the 96-97 season which saw the Blues being ousted from the playoffs again by the Red Wings, a captain was finally named. It was a player nobody in their wildest dreams would ever wear the "C" for the Blues:
Yes, that's right, the player this node is about, Chris Pronger.
Strange as it was, this catapulted Pronger's confidence and his leap to greatness. In the outstanding 1997-1998 season where the Blues scored more goals than any other team in the league, Pronger, the youngest captain in team history, ranked first in the NHL with an almost-unbelievable plus-47 rating and established career highs in assists (27), points (36) and penalty minutes (180) and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy. That year he collected 10 points in the playoffs that began with a sweep of the Los Angeles Kings and ended with yet another ouster at the hands of Detroit.
Ever since Pronger has continued to develop into an awesome defenseman, partly due to his usual defensive partner Al MacInnis. In fact, Pronger even began to duplicate MacInnis' defensive smartness and wicked slapshot. Often the pair partoled the blue line together during power plays. In the 1999-2000 season, the year for the Blues when losses were a rarity and the team won many awards, including the President's Trophy, Pronger won not only the NHL's Hart Trophy (league MVP) but took home the Norris Trophy as well (top defenseman). That marked the first time since Bobby Orr in 1972 that one player received both honors in one season. But the injury bug bit Pronger and he missed all but the final five games of the 2002-2003 season because he was rehabiliting his wrist and knee, both of which were operated on in the off season. In his absence, Al MacInnis was the captain of the Blues, and that man will continue to be the captain at least until the end of the 2003-2004 season.
In the 2003-2004 season, MacInnis missed most of it with an eye injury, but Pronger refused to take back the "C" or even stitch on an "A". He wanted to focus primarily on coming back to full form and he did. He was the Chris Pronger fans knew and loved from seasons past and did not disappoint with 14 goals and 40 assists (scoring more than most of the Blues' forwards that season) and he played all but two games of the season.
And as most NHL fans are now painfully remembering, there was no 2004-2005 season because of the lockout. After disagreeing all year about the CBA - and more importantly a salary cap - the players and Union finally reached a deal in July 2005. With the St. Louis Blues being on the selling block and the team faced with difficult decisions in paring down the team's budget with the new $39 million team salary cap, on August 2, 2005 the Blues traded away Pronger and his many millions to the Edmonton Oilers for veteran defenseman Eric Brewer and two other younger stud defensemen by the names of Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka, shocking Blues fans almost as much as the deal that had brought him to town about ten years earlier.
During his time in Edmonton, Pronger kept up his scoring pace, netting 12 goals and 44 assists (good for 56 points) and added 74 penalty minutes. He provided the veteran scoring and leadership the team needed to make the playoffs. They barely did. Being the #8 seed they faced a long, uphill battle in the playoffs. But they were ready for it as they shockingly laid waste to the #1-seeded Detroit Red Wings, then the #5-seeded San Jose Sharks, then the #6-seeded Disneyland Ducks on their way to face the Carolina Hurricanes (Pronger's former team - don't forget they used to be the Hartford Whalers) in the Stanley Cup Finals. They lost in 7 games after almost overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the series. With a little over a second left in the last game Pronger blasted a shot from his end that was almost on net right before the celebration began in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But that would be the last shot he would take for the Oilers. After that he asked to be traded for "personal reasons." A rumour persisted that Pronger had diddled somebody other than his wife, a reporter, and impregnated her. Variations on that story abounded. But maybe the real reason his wife demanded they move was that she was sick and tired of the cold weather up on Ontario, as the team Chris Pronger went to post-Edmonton was none other than the then-recently-renamed Anaheim Ducks in California. A few years later he said goodbye to them and ended up with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009.