There were many people, I am quite certain, who raised an eyebrow when it was announced Chris Pronger was joining the National Hockey League’s Player Safety Department as a director.
You mean the Chris Pronger who was suspended eight times for a total of 22 games in his career? That Chris Pronger?
Well, it’s true. Pronger has been on the job since 2014 keeping an eye on the players who step out of line and making recommendations to the department’s head, former NHL defenseman Stephane Quintal. The same ruthless player who admits he crossed over the line as a player now is on the side of the law.
To Pronger, his inclusion in helping decide who should be punished for unscrupulous on-ice activity makes perfect sense.
“Fans around the league know me as a villain because I was entertaining,” Pronger said. “I played the game, A) to win, but B) since the fans are paying good money to watch us play and I wanted to entertain them. You have to extricate yourself from that vision of what I appeared to be. People who have never talked to me, only saw me interviewed by some media people when I was being funny or being a jerk, but they don’t know me as a person. They only know the persona of a person that is playing a sport…a game. I played the game the way I did because that was how I was effective. The way I played the game doesn’t define who I am or how I think.”
The fact of the matter is Pronger is a very likeable and intelligent man. The way he played the game, often quite viciously, didn’t sit well with his opponents nor the fans of other teams. But there’s no denying he was effective. That’s what he was a mainstay on four Canadian Olympic teams. It is why he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And it is why NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took the unusual step of hiring Pronger even though he was still under contract as a player to the Philadelphia Flyers; though his playing career ended because of an eye injury. Pronger’s appointment needed the blessing of the NHL Players Association which it obviously gave. Originally he was not allowed to weigh in on any incidents involving the Flyers and now, since his contract was transferred to Arizona, the Coyotes are off limits to him.
Pronger is careful to explain that he is not a decision-maker in the league’s front office, just a voice who offers opinions based on his playing experience and his observations.
“There’s always going to be haters, there’s always going to be doubters and people that question your ethics,” Pronger said. “I get the fact people might think there is a moral compromise or a chance for me to sway a decision one way or another, but I am just an opinion in the room. I’m not making the final decision. That is Quintal’s job. You have four other guys in the room plus Gary (Bettman) and Bill (Daly) who Quintal is accountable to; guys who have way more experience than me in making these decisions. I’m in there trying to learn and figure out what to look for because it’s way different than playing the game.”
Pronger sees his participation with the Player Safety Department as a valuable step toward his ultimate goal of becoming an NHL GM.
“That’s another reason why I took this job,” Pronger said. “It kept me in the game, watching games, studying the league and learning the league from the standpoint of all the new faces. From the time I finished five years ago to now I would say three quarters of the league has rolled over. That’s a lot of churn in five years. You’ve got to stay current.”
Pronger said he benefits from attending GM and Board of Governors meetings where he gets to mingle with the brain trust charged with running the NHL.
“I get to understand the business side of the game,” Pronger said. “One thing I have gotten much better at is listening instead of always trying to talk and then waiting to talk again. You listen and focus on what you are listening to and then figure out what questions you have. The other thing is, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you have questions, ask them.”
There is no question Chris Pronger will continue to be a presence in the NHL.