The 40-year-old defenceman is still under contract with the Philadelphia Flyers and will be through the 2016-2017 season, but most signs point to his career as being done. NHL commissioner and Sesame Street vampire Gary Bettman has no issues with any conflicts of interest or such issues, however, even if Pronger hasn’t technically retired from the game.
Of course, Pronger has played the game since 2011. Concussions and an eye injury have kept him on the sidelines and “salary cap issues” are generally cited as the reasons he can’t or hasn’t or won’t retire officially. So he’s “retired” but not really.
And now he’s officially been named to the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety. Pronger was hired by NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Stephane Quintal, who had him as one of the top candidates to join the group.
Pronger will be part of the unit that reviews contact and will determine of fines or suspensions are warranted.
There are easy, easy cases to be made with regard to conflicts of interest, as mentioned. Ed Snider still cuts Pronger a paycheque. Now, one would imagine that Pronger could and should preclude himself from any cases involving any Flyers, but it still stands to reason that it’s a little bit iffy to have a player on-roster making these sorts of calls or having a say in making these sorts of calls.
At the very least, there’s the “perception of affiliation” with a hockey club. You can argue that he’ll be a fair and unbiased mind all you like and indeed he very likely will be, but it’s impossible to argue that he’s not a Flyer and that he’s not being paid by the Flyers to the tune of $4 million a year. And given those facts, it’s subsequently impossible to argue that it’s not a little weird and a little iffy to put him in the post.
And that even leaves aside his rather colourful history, which some could argue gives him unique insight into the play of, you know, borderline players and players crossing right the heck over said border and into nonsense.
Pronger has eight suspensions to show for himself. He’s been suspended for kicking twice. Kicking. He was suspended for hits to the head twice.
Some are making the argument that hiring Pronger for the job is a little like hiring a bank robber to check out the bank in order to make sure that everything is good to go. This may be the case and the argument could be made that few know better about the art of suspension than Pronger. I mean, you could hire Chris Simon under the same rationale. At least he’s not a rostered player.
Is Chris Pronger the best choice for the Department of Player Safety? No. I don’t think anyone sensible would argue that. This is the guy that swung his bloody stick at Jeremy Roenick’s head, for Pete’s sake. This is the guy that cross-checked Brenden Morrow in the face, for Pete’s sake. And he’s a Flyer. Still.
The plan for now is for Pronger to work in a behind-the-scenes role, kind of like how Rob Blake did when he helped Brendan Shanahan make some calls. That may or may not help tone down the possibility of conflicts of interest and/or bad choices. My advice: don’t hold your breath.