Sunday, October 12, 2014

Chris Pronger Has a Posse

It was a surprise to me to discover that the first-ever post here on Clear the Crease Mark II concerned Chris Pronger. It wasn't a surprise that that post revolved around Chris Pronger's words, as Pronger has long been one of the most quotable athletes anywhere. Having had the worst game of his remarkable playoff career, and having to discuss it with angle-hungry press release junkies (known to you and me as the sporting press), he declared himself "day to day with hurt feelings".

Not just a good line, this deflection revealed both the pro's ability to move past a setback without undue agonizing (ahem) and a lightness of touch that suggested a reasonable man's assessment of the overall importance of one man's performance in one team's playoff game. It was sure a fur piece from self-describing as A Warrior or A Soldier or such such shit, anyway.

Other words than his own come to mind re: Pronger—maybe none more perfect than Down Goes Brown's crack about a Pronger dick move:

Has been known to slack off and go up to two full years without single-handedly dragging a team to the Stanley Cup finals.
This is both funny and a more than fair, accurate, and comprehensive account of Pronger's career.

Pronger's career, 1993-4 through 2011-12, was entirely contained within that of Swedish wizard Nicklas Lidström, 1991-2 through 2011-12, and Pronger was generally overshadowed by the Red Wing: Lidström won some seven Norris trophies as the season's best defenseman, which didn't leave a lot left for Pronger's plate. Pronger did, however, manage one Norris, in 1999-2000, which he paired with the Hart, for the most valuable player overall. (That pairing had happened to exactly one other player, to a gentleman named Bobby Orr, who was probably the greatest hockey player of all time.) And, as Down Goes Brown noted above, Pronger's squads routinely went damn deep in the playoffs: in the five seasons between 2005-6 and 2009-10, he made the finals with three different teams, winning once, in 2006-7. (In the 2005-6 run to the finals, I learned more about defense than I had known to that point, simply by watching the way he'd position his 6-6 frame and long-ass stick: time after time, whoever was trying to get the puck into the offensive zone would see where he was and what he was doing and just retreat and regroup and wait for a better opportunity. Given that Pronger was playing 30+ minutes a night, the beleaguered puckcarrier generally had to wait quite a while for that more promising chance.)

So. Pronger has a Cup, some major hardware, massive team success, a metric heap of all-star game selectins—so far, we could more or less be talking about second-tier nonentities like Rob (nee Rod) Blake, who couldn't form a posse if he watched Ike Clanton's gang kidnap the mayor's daughter while robbing a bank and slapping the town priest with a Koran bound in babyskin. What gives Pronger his posse is that he's got style. Not just a good quote and a great player, Pronger was a nasty goon, a hatchet man who worked with brutality that was never compromised by but often garnished with a little flair. Among his eight suspensions were one for using his razor-sharp skate blade to stomp on Ryan Kesler's leg, two for kicking (with those skates again), one for a nasty elbow in the finals, and so on.

Chris Pronger introduced a lot of us to body horror by undergoing a wrist surgery that involved having some bone removed from his arm. How much? How about an inch of bone? He was "notorious for laying the lumber on teammates in practice" and was a locker-room presence that got sarcastically nicknamed "Captain Happy" by Jamie McLennan when things started to go pear-shaped with one team. He demanded a trade out of Edmonton after a single, highly successful, year, and he currently refuses to retire from the Flyers, enabling him to collect an unmolested guaranteed salary while the team avoids having to have that salary on the books, as he's "injured", not "retired": he could come back any day now. Except his name is not present on the employee list. And he's got a new job, working for the NHL Department of Player Safety. Presumably the theory is that the pot is uniquely qualified to judge and understand the blackness of the kettle. If nothing else, we should get some primo quotage out of the situation, and some good gap-toothed smirks, which should only increase the size of his posse.

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