Chris Pronger, who combined size, strength and a hard-edged competitive attitude as one of the top defensemen in St. Louis Blues history, on Monday was chosen for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2015.
“It's extremely humbling and a true honor to be part of this class and part of the Hall of Fame,” Pronger said Monday during a conference call with reporters. “I think nothing I've done has been the easy way, so I guess this would follow suit. I'm just excited and proud to be part of this group.”
The 40-year-old Pronger routinely played 30 minutes a game after his career blossomed in St. Louis following a July 27, 1995 trade that sent Blues fan favorite Brendan Shanahan to the Hartford Whalers.
Pronger, the second overall pick in the NHL in 1993 with the Hartford Whalers, experienced coach Mike Keenan’s “tough love” approach during his early days with the Blues. Because he had been traded for the popular Shanahan, Pronger was booed every time he touched the puck in some home games not long after joining the Blues.
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Pronger eventually turned those boos into cheers after getting a lot of valuable playing time paired with another Hall of Famer, Blues defenseman Al MacInnis.
Pronger credited MacInnis for aiding his development process.
“When I first got here I was 20 years old and just recently traded from Hartford for another Hall of Famer (Shanahan),” Pronger said. “I was trying to find my way and Al kind of took me under his wing. Being able to watch somebody like that prepare and practice, study the game and make sure he's ready to play to the utmost of his ability each and every night and never take a night off was paramount in my development and my understanding in becoming an elite player in the game.
“Just being able to watch him day-in and day-out and having that ability to pick his brain, ask questions and try to be a sponge was definitely key in my development.”
Ex-Blues defenseman Phil Housley was also chosen for Hall of Fame induction on Monday. Housley played in 26 games with the Blues in 1993-94 and later was traded to the Flames for MacInnis. The full 2015 Hall of Fame induction player class includes Pronger, Housley, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Angela Ruggiero.
The list of former Blues defenseman in the Hall of Fame includes Pronger, MacInnis, Housley, Scott Stevens, Guy Lapointe, Al Arbour and Doug Harvey. Pronger is the first ex-Blues player to reach the Hall of Fame since Shanahan in 20913 and Adam Oates in 2012.
Pronger still lives in St. Louis and holds the city in high regard. In 598 games with the Blues from 1995 to 2004, Pronger had 84 goals, 356 points and 931 penalty minutes.
“We had some great years here in St. Louis,” he said. “I played with a number of Hall of Famers and great teammates over the years. I look back on it fondly, met my wife here and moved back here after my injury. It's been a like a second home for me over the year.”
Pronger’s best season was likely 1999-2000 with the Blues, when he won both the Hart Trophy (league Most Valuable Player) and Norris Trophy (best defenseman). It marked only the second time in league history a defenseman earned both honors; Bobby Orr achieved the feat three times.
Lidstrom talked about the battles between his Red Wings and Pronger and the Blues during their fierce rivalry.
“He was a warrior out there on the ice,” Lidstrom said. “You knew he was going to play half the game and you knew he was going to be a tough guy to play against. You knew that he was going to be one of the players you had to beat to beat St. Louis. We had some great battles against the Blues back in the 1990s. It was almost like a playoff game every time we played the,m but it was a fun game.”
Pronger’s size, strength and long reach with his stick was feared throughout the league — as was his bad disposition. Though he now works for the NHL Player Safety Department, Pronger was asked if today’s players could play the way he did.
“I don’t know if you could,” he said. “They might be in front of me (facing disciplinary action) if they did. Much like the ‘70s and ‘80s, there's an evolution to the game. I just grew up in a different tine and a different age where you did what you had to do to win a hockey game. It’s much more difficult (now) to play on the edge the way that I did.”
Pronger’s departure from St. Louis was also clouded in controversy. With the team being sold to a new ownership group headed by Dave Checketts, owner Bill Laurie’s group ordered then-General Manager Larry Pleau to trade Pronger.
In a trade that many fans never understood, the Blues traded Pronger to Edmonton in August, 2005 for defensemen Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch and Jefff Woywitka.
Pronger, a six-time all-star, played his last NHL game Nov. 19, 2011 because of post-concussion syndrome and an eye injury.
Even though he now works for the NHL Department of Player Safety, Pronger was still under contract to the Philadelphia Flyers through 2016-17 until his contract was traded to Arizona on Saturday as part of a salary cap move.
Arizona traded forward Sam Gagner to the Flyers for defenseman Nicklas Grossman, Pronger and either a 2016 fourth-round pick or 2017 third-round pick.
A recent change in the Hockey Hall of Fame voting process made Pronger eligible for Hall of Fame induction sooner than expected. Under former rules, he would not have been eligible until 2020.
“Somebody had briefed me or told me that maybe they were thinking about changing the by-laws and allowing injured players that were still under contract to be able to go into the Hall of Fame,” Pronger said. “It was exciting to hear the news and to hear I was at last going to have a chance to get in.”
News on Sobotka, Blues trade
In other Blues news, the club on Monday confirmed that forward Vladimir Sobotka will remain in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for the 2015-16. The Blues still own Sobotka’s rights for one more NHL season.
The Blues also acquired 6-foot-6, 225-pound German defenseman Konrad Beltshauser from San Jose for a conditional 2016 seventh-round pick. He had three goals and 19 points in 50 games with Worcester of the American Hockey League last season. The Blues also signed Jeremy Welsh, who had 20 goals and 21 assists in 75 games with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves last season.