The return of the NHL is on the horizon and so is St. Louis Blues legend, Chris Pronger’s jersey number retirement ceremony, despite no set date for when this event will occur, the iconic 44 will be hanging on the rafter at Enterprise Center sometime next season. He is the eighth Blues player to have his jersey retired joining Al MacInnis (2), Bob Gassoff (3), Bob Plager (5), Barclay Plager (8), Brian Sutter (11), Brett Hull (16), Bernie Federko (24) and former play by play commentator, Dan Kelly who passed away on February 10, 1989 at 52 after battling cancer. The legendary defenseman didn’t just succeed with the Blues, he was a key contributor for the Anaheim Ducks run as they won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and guided the Philadelphia Flyers as the Stanley Cup Final runner-ups in 2010. Pronger was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015, his first year of eligibility, with 698 points in 1,167 games along with being an elite member of the “Triple Goal Club” for having won an Olympic Games gold medal, World Championship gold medal and a Stanley Cup.
In 1993, the expansion Ottawa Senators had a loaded draft in front of them,Pronger and fellow Hall of Famer, Paul Kariya along with future All Stars, Saku Koivu, Viktor Kozlov and Jason Arnott, instead of the reliable options, the Senators elected to go with Alexandre Daigle who went on to be one of the biggest NHL busts of all time. The Hartford Whalers picked Pronger second overall, despite struggling to find the back of the net, 30 points on a struggling team was more than what they could have hoped for. The Whalers eventually dealt Pronger a year later to the St. Louis Blues for Brendan Shanahan at the time, the trade was even tho fans in St. Louis was sour about the exchange. Pronger played well in St. Louis but it wasn’t until the 1997-98 campaign where he notched a then career high 36 points and led the league in plus/minus rating with 47. He continued to rack up the point sheet the following year with 46 points in a mere 67 games. In the 1999-00 season he became the league's best defenseman, winning both Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) and James Norris Trophy (best defenseman), 14 goals, 48 assist, and a pulse/minus rating of 52, truly remarkable. This achievement put him in the history book behind Bobby Orr in 1972 to earn both trophies in one season. He continued to average a point per game in the playoffs that same year but the only thing the Blues can show for their 114 point regular season championship was a meaningless trophy after falling to the Sharks in 7 games in the opening round. Pronger was on a productive streak with 47 points in each of the following two seasons before a torn knee limited him to just 5 games in 2002-03. Pronger returned strong with a 54 point season but the Blues due to the new salary cap system at the time ended the 9 year journey trading him to the Edmonton Oilers for solid role players in Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka. Pronger played like his usual self with a 56 point season and a 21 point playoff year where the Oilers were one game shy of winning the Stanley Cup as they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7. Despite the Oilers having huge success on the ice straight to the finals with 4 years remaining on Pronger’s massive contract, he requested to be traded. Oilers’ fans were fumed by his decision, they burnt Pronger’s furniture including a baby crib, this was affirmed by Pronger himself. Since there was no proof or witnesses of this incident, it seems this tale was fabricated. The question still remains, did this really happen? The Oilers didn’t want this to go any further so the organization traded the “Drama King” to the Ducks for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid and 3 draft picks. In Anaheim, Pronger and Scott Niedermayer became the best defenseman pair in the league, Pronger notched 15 points in 19 playoff games as the Ducks defeated the Senators in 5 games for the franchise’s first and only Stanley Cup in 2007. After two additional productive years with the club, the Ducks traded Pronger and AHL player Ryan Dingle to the Flyers for Lupul, Luca Sbisa and 3 draft picks in the summer of 2009. Pronger was off and on injured with the Flyers but showed heart at his last shot of winning his second title in the 2010 playoffs, the team shocked the hockey world making the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, Pronger tallied 18 points in 23 games which showed he still had plenty in the tank but the Flyers failed to force a game 7 as Patrick Kane scored for the 4-3 overtime cup clinching goal. Only 5 months later, a serious injury delivered by Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mikhail Grabovski caught Pronger’s right eye with his stick, after several attempts to return to the sport the injury ultimately forced him to retire at the age of 37.
Chris Pronger’s historic run in the NHL made him one of the premier defensemen along with the likes of fellow and future Hall of Famers Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Sergei Zubov and Zdeno Chara. Significant injuries had taken a toll on Pronger but when healthy he could command the ice with his presence of 6’ 6”, 220 lb like no other. He was uncommonly skilled, menacing and was also known as a grinder, truly one tough SOB with 931 penalty minutes in 1167 career regular season games. He is arguably the best Blues defenseman of all time, 598 games played, 84 goals and 272 assists adding up to 356 points, 9 playoff appearances in St. Louis (15 total), 4 All Star games (5 total) and in 2017, he was named one of the “100 Greatest Players” in NHL history. Hockey remains in Pronger’s blood as he is currently working in the front office of the Florida Panthers’ organization.