Chris Pronger has been called a lot of things in nearly 25 years in the NHL.
Leader. Dirty. Tough. Nasty. Hard-nosed. In your face and even old school.
“I might’ve been old school, but it doesn’t mean I see the game that way,” Pronger, now working in Florida’s front office, said before to Thursday’s Flyers-Panthers game. “As the game has adapted from when I first came into the league — there were no bench-clearing brawls, there was no hooking and holding — I was supposedly going to be a dinosaur. I’m my opinion, I got better.”
Perhaps better, but certainly wiser throughout an 18-year career. Engaging and at times intimidating, Pronger always seemed to have a much more practical side to him.
After spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and still being compensated from the seven-year extension he signed with the Flyers in June 2009, Pronger was essentially an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his professional hockey career this past summer.
After a few meetings and discussions with Panthers management — which included former Flyers executive Peter Luukko — Pronger agreed on a one-year contract as the team’s senior advisor of hockey operations.
“I counsel and advise on various matters related to the hockey operations side,” Pronger said. “I’m more players and personnel and what I know about certain players, what I think of them, how they play, relate it to today’s game. Just kind of give my feedback on what I see. You take it for what it’s worth.
“You try to be a sounding board at times for some of the players. I’ve had a chance to interact with some of them, get to know them a little more on a personal level, learn what makes them tick and try and learn how they can be pushed, prodded and poked to be better. Some are like me and some are not. Everybody’s different so you got to learn that through interactions and talking with them.”
The job is also perfectly tailored to Pronger’s family life. He still resides in St. Louis and only attends a handful of Panthers games. On top of player management, he occasionally scouts, and with that, he can easily commute just about anywhere in North America within a three-hour flight.
However, ask Pronger where he sees himself in the next three-to-five years and he has absolutely no clue, only reiterating a desire to become a general manager someday.
“I would like to,” Pronger said. “As a player, I could project that far out and tell you what I was going to do, but right now, I got a one-year contract here and I’m going to do my duties and proceed as planned this year. I’ll do the best I can for Dale (Tallon) and this organization and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Which is why Pronger would prove to be a valuable asset somewhere on Ron Hextall’s staff. Not because of his Hextall-like demeanor on the ice or that he was born to wear the orange and black, as former Ducks GM Brian Burke once stated. Pronger and Hextall haven’t discussed any future position, and with Hextall in Buffalo for the World Junior Championships this week, the two former Flyers didn’t have the opportunity to talk in person.
But Pronger brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to an organization in a transitional phase, especially defensively with their younger prospects. He’s worked briefly with Samuel Morin, who's drawn comparisons to Pronger, and has been credited for getting Aaron Ekblad’s career back on track.
Understandably, he’s more discerning of today’s players.
“I just think they’re different. They’ve all grown up differently,” Pronger said. “I grew up in the non-internet age. So, I didn’t know who anybody was. I got my information out of Hockey Digest, my once-a-week manual in what’s going on in the NHL.
“You adapt, as players you adapt. You got to see where the trends are going, where the game is going and try and get out in front of it.”