Chris Pronger still has some eye issues from post-concussion syndrome, but he has no regrets about a brilliant career that will undoubtedly put him into hockey’s Hall of Fame.
“I played 18 seasons, and was able to accomplish a lot in those years,” he said before watching the Flyers’ practice in Voorhees on Tuesday. “Was it cut short by a few years? Yeah, but there’s a lot of guys who don’t ever get to 18 years. Eighteen is a pretty good number. Won a Cup, went to three Finals, a couple gold medals.”
Trim and relaxed, Pronger _ the former Flyers defensive star whose career ended about 2½ years ago _ was in Voorhees because of a follow-up doctor’s appointment and because he was meeting with general manager Paul Holmgren to give input on his scouting. Pronger lives in St. Louis with his family, and he has been scouting teams when they face the Blues.
“I’m just kind of watching the Western teams. I’ll get a call from Homer (to) either watch this defenseman or watch this team, and see if there’s anybody who might help us improve,” said Pronger, referring to Holmgren by his nickname. “I file a report and give him a call… Just because I’m looking at them, doesn’t mean we’re going to make a trade, or sign a guy. It just gives them another set of eyes.”
Pronger, 39, who sometimes brings along his children to his scouting assignments, said he watches a lot of Flyers games on TV.
“I don’t necessarily think they have to make a trade,” he said before the Flyers acquired defenseman Andrew MacDonald from the New York Islanders later on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, they’ve climbed themselves out of a huge hole. Now they’re in a great position and they’re holding all the cards. It’s just a matter of how they continue to play. The consistency level has been a lot better. It can still be even better than it has been. Continuing to buy into the defensive system and structure and playing well defensively will translate into more offense for us.”
When Pronger watches a game, “I’m more looking at the defensive zone as opposed to just the defense. It’s more than just the defensemen. It’s the forwards, it’s the interaction with the goaltender. There’s more to defense than just the defensemen.”
The defense has never recovered from the loss of the crease-clearing Pronger, who played with an edge that spread to his teammates.
“I think it’s good enough,” Pronger, wearing what looked like his playoff beard, said when asked about the defense. “I think we need to play as five-man units and, more to the point, six-man units when you count the goalie. You have to buy into the system. It’s hard work. It’s making sure you’re not cheating on passes. You’re taking away passing lanes. You’re eliminating players and stopping cycles and things of that nature. It’s tough. It takes a lot of hard work. When you do it fast and efficiently, you’re gonna have that much more energy to go back and try to score some goals…but you’ve got to buy into playing defense.”
As for his health, Pronger said he has improving, but wasn’t all the way back. He played his final game, in Winnipeg, on Nov. 19, 2011. It was his fifth game after returning from an ocular concussion.
“I still can be symptomatic if I overdo it, but I’ve been pretty steady with the eye therapy and making some pretty good progress,” he said. “There are still two or three issues with the eye that I’m having trouble with. I think the root of a lot of the issues is the eye, and that’s creating a lot of the head stuff. But other than that, I’ve been pretty good.”
Pronger said his eye sometimes “kind of catches and doesn’t track properly” and that he can initially have double vision. “It catches and isn’t smooth, so it will make you light-headed or whatever.”
As time goes by, Pronger said, he has learned to accept not being on the ice.
“You get a little bit older, a little bit crankier,” he said, flashing his gap-toothed grin. “I’m not gonna say you don’t miss it. But, it’s less and less.”
Even though he will never play again, Pronger is technically on the Flyers’ roster; he has to remain there so the team can get cap relief ($4.9 million per season through the end of 2016-17) by placing him on the long-term injured reserve list. If he retired, they would not get cap relief because of an odd NHL rule.
Pronger was asked about the charade and the league forcing the Flyers to pretend he might play again.
“It’s a question for the league and not up to me,” he said. “What charade are you talking about?”
His smile seemed to stretch the length of the blue line.
Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.