TORONTO – The NHL suspended Anaheim Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger for eight games Saturday for stomping on the leg of Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler.
The punishment came down hours after Pronger had a phone hearing with NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell on Saturday morning.
Pronger’s eighth career suspension is also his longest, eclipsing his previous high of four games.
“First, I apologize to Ryan Kesler,” said Pronger. “Second, to the Vancouver Canucks organization, third, to the Anaheim Ducks organization, the league and the fans. They obviously deserve an apology as well.
“There is not a place for these types of instances in our game.”
Pronger began serving his punishment with Saturday night’s game against St. Louis. He’ll be eligible to return for Anaheim’s regular-season finale April 6 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
“That’s what the league has decided,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “We have to live with the consequences and deal with that. Now it’s an opportunity, that’s why you acquire players at the trade deadline and have depth in your lineup.
“We have the choice between (Marc-Andre) Bergeron and (Joe) DiPenta to go in. That ‘s just the way it is and we move forward.”
Pronger’s previous suspension came during last June’s Stanley Cup final with Ottawa when he elbowed Dean McAmmond in the head and was forced to sit out one game.
He was also suspended one game March 14, 2004 while with St. Louis for kicking Calgary forward Ville Nieminen.
The Kesler incident occurred Wednesday night but the NHL didn’t originally have proper video evidence to suspend Pronger.
Then on Thursday, the NHL saw a new angle from a TV replay that clearly showed Pronger stepping on Kesler’s leg after they became tangled behind the Vancouver net.
Kesler was uninjured and no penalty was called on the play.
“In attempting to free himself, Pronger carelessly and recklessly brought his foot down,” Campbell said in a statement announcing the punishment.
Kesler said he was fine with the judgement.
“I’m not suprised he didn’t get more considering how many games they have left,” he told Rogers Sportsnet. “If that’s what the league thinks he deserves, that’s good enough for me.”
Pronger said “surprised” wasn’t the right word to describe his reaction.
“Looking at other precedents and other situations that have happened, certainly as a league we don’t condone these types of incidents and obviously want to put these behind us and talk about the important parts of the game,” Pronger said. “I didn’t really plead my case all that much.
“There probably wasn’t too much to say, merely just to replay the incident to them and understand the league doesn’t condone instances like this. I expressed my sincere apologies and they did what they needed to do and I’d have to live with it.”
The suspension is the second in the NHL this season for stomping. Minnesota Wild forward Chris Simon, then of the New York Islanders, received 30 games for stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu.
Simon had questioned the initial decision to not suspend Pronger on Friday.
“I think what’s happened here is there’s a lot of sensitivity to anything related to skates right now,” said Ducks general manager Brian Burke. “I would have to hope and believe that the NHL disregards any kind of outcry when they evaluate these kinds of things.
“I have a lot more confidence in Colin Campbell that he’s never going to respond to media pressure. I know I never did when I did that job.”
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Pronger is considered a repeat offender. He will forfeit US$609,756.08 in salary.
The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.