PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Flyers will have to find a way to keep winning games without captain Chris Pronger.
The NHL club announced Thursday that Pronger will miss the rest of the season and the playoffs with “severe post-concussion syndrome.”
Veteran forward Scott Hartnell called that news ”devastating.”
”He’s a presence in the room and on the ice,” Hartnell said after the Flyers’ 4-3 win in Montreal on Thursday. ”He was a big factor in our run (to the Stanley Cup final) a couple of years ago. When he’s in the lineup be brings a lot of intangibles. We’re upset about it.”
The decision came after 37-year-old Pronger was examined in Pittsburgh by doctors John Maroon and Mickey Collins, who also treated Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
“Chris will continue to receive treatments and therapy with the hope that he can get better,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said in a statement.
Pronger has missed the Flyers’ last 11 games since coming down with what the team first described as a virus and later changed to post-concussion symptoms.
Without him, rookies Kevin Marshall and Marc-Andre Bourdon have filled in and it hasn’t hurt so far as the Flyers have won seven games in a row and nine of their last 10.
The Flyers are also missing NHL scoring leader Claude Giroux and rookie Brayden Schenn to concussions.
Pronger is the team’s top rearguard, a vocal leader and a nasty, physical presence on the ice.
But blue-liner Braydon Coburn said he will not be far away and can still be a positive influence even if he doesn’t play.
”He’ll be there for us,” said Coburn. ”He watches all the games. He’ll text me and other guys. He’s always got insight that he can give players.
”It’s hard. I know he’s probably going through a tough time. But he’s a strong guy. He’s been around the block. He is still a strong leadership voice in our dressing room, much like Lappy (Ian Laperriere) was last year.
”Especially with the young D-corps we have now, he’ll be getting his voice in there with a lot of advice and encouragement.”
The bruising defenceman also took a stick in the eye from Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski in late October that resulted in facial trauma and caused him to miss six games.
Pronger, who had knee surgery last month, has one goal and 11 assists in 13 games this season.
But the Flyers have managed to go 12-4-1 without him in the lineup this season.
”We made a lot of changes this summer and it resulted in us getting a lot deeper as a team,” said Coburn. ”We have a lot of young guys who are hungry to step up and fill gaps when guys go down. That has really benefited us.”
Pronger, a Dryden, Ont., native, won gold medals with Canada at the 2002 and 2010 Olympics and won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
He signed a seven year contract in 2009.
He has 157 goals and 541 assists in 1,167 career regular-season games in 18 seasons with Hartford, St. Louis, Edmonton, Anaheim and Philadelphia.
Pronger joins a long list of NHL players suffering from concussions or concussion-like symptoms this season. Crosby returned to action last month for the first time since early January, but has since suffered a setback and is again out of the Penguins lineup.
Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek, the league’s top goalscorer, and Carolina Hurricanes sniper Jeff Skinner are also out with concussions.
Giroux, who has 39 points on the season, took an inadvertent knee to the head from teammate Wayne Simmonds in a game Saturday.
“Claude’s status remains the same,” Holmgren said. “He is out indefinitely.”
—With files from The Canadian Press sports reporter Bill Beacon in Montreal