Chris Pronger will never skate another shift in the NHL.
There, I said it.
That isn’t to doubt the tough-as-nails future Hall of Famer, as we all know Pronger would rather be on the ice clearing out the garbage in front of the Flyers’ net than watching from home. Hell, he'd probably even enjoy holding court and ragging on reporters like me more than that.
It’s just that no one - not Flyers management, not even Pronger himself - has been allowed to say anything other than that Pronger continues to work toward one day returning to the ice.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has been dogged repeatedly for updates since announcing on Dec. 15, 2011 that Pronger would miss the remainder of the season for “concussion-like symptoms.”
Just this week, Holmgren told a reporter that Pronger - who recently visited a neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center - that he is “doing better but not to the point where he can think about playing.” In fact, Pronger probably had to see the doctor in Pittsburgh to sign papers for the NHL that he remained unfit to play.
Pronger, who turns 38 on Oct. 10, has not skated since Nov. 19, 2011 in Winnipeg. Holmgren also said it was “too soon” to tell whether Pronger could consider skating again.
There is a reason Pronger has not addressed the media once since being sidelined. No one can say anything further.
Since Pronger’s 7-year, $34.45 million extension with the Flyers kicked in after his 35th birthday, the Flyers are on the hook for his full salary cap hit should he or the club hint that he is retiring or formally sign the papers.
The alternative route is what the Flyers have taken. With his legitimate health issues, no doctor will clear him to play. Therefore, the Flyers can add him to the long-term injury list and receive an annual cushion for his $4.91 million salary cap hit.
That is subject to change under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, by the way.
Under a new CBA, based on every proposal we’ve seen from the NHL, the Flyers would not be able to afford Pronger if he was healthy. Under the last NHL proposal, the league would like to shrink the salary cap from the current $70.2 million to somewhere around $59 million for next season.
The Flyers already have $66 million committed to 23 players, including Pronger. Without Pronger, they’re paying their top six defensemen an average of $3.793 million - second in spending to only Vancouver and Chicago at the position. Taking Pronger out of the mix brings them down to a reasonable number, which can be further reduced if Andrej Meszaros’ $4 million salary is LTIR’d for the bulk of the season.
Still, even if Pronger were to wake up completely symptom-free on Saturday, it would be a longshot for him to get in shape again quickly after nearly a year off the ice. That’s using the assumption, too, that he would be willing to risk further brain damage.
Pronger’s wife, Lauren, said previously that her husband was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning some days and struggling to live a normal life as a father. The Prongers have moved back to St. Louis, where Lauren is from and Chris spent 9 seasons playing for the Blues.
For someone who has won a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a World Championship, a Norris Trophy, a Hart Trophy, and has amassed more than $100 million in career earnings, health is an awful scary thing to risk for a 38-year-old father with three young children.
Even the most determined and hungry athlete, like Pronger, would have to think twice. I know I would.
For now, everyone is making the best of a bad situation.
Pronger, as an injured player during the lockout, will receive his $7.2 million salary this season regardless of whether the puck is dropped on a single game. He will be paid every dollar of his guaranteed contract, which expires after the 2017 season.
The Flyers are required to pay out the contract, but as such a shrewd business operation, you would have to imagine that they protect themselves against injury with insurance.
Plus, Pronger doesn’t impact their future plans at all by hamming up the salary cap.
No one gets hurt any worse, as long as there is a (wink, wink) continued attempt to get back on the ice in the future. We’ll all just play along, stop asking, and wish Chris and his family the best.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers