By now, pretty much everybody was already resigned to the fact that Chris Pronger was never going to appear in an NHL game again. That much isn’t news. The Flyers finally acknowledging the elephant in the room on the other hand…
In a story filed by Ken Campbell to The Hockey News, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren admits Pronger is retired for all intents and purposes. It’s believed to be the first time the team or a team executive has publicly stated that we’ve almost certainly seen the last of the great defenseman.
“I’ll say it, Chris is never going to play again,” said Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. “I have no problems saying it.”
There’s just one problem with Holmgren coming out and saying that. Popular thinking is Pronger hasn’t formally retired so that the club can continue placing him and his roughly $5 million salary cap hit on long-term injured reserve.
But since Pronger turned 35 during the deal, the Flyers have no way out of absorbing the cap hit for the next four seasons. He isn’t going to retire because he’s due $7 million in salary next season and $4 million in 2014-15. If he were to retire, he’d forfeit the money and the Flyers would still be on the hook for the cap hit the next four seasons. They can’t buy him out because the CBA forbids teams from buying out injured players, but the Flyers do get the cap relief by keeping him on the long-term injury list, the same way the Boston Bruins are dealing with Marc Savard.
Over-35 contracts were designed to prevent teams from circumventing the CBA, but it’s almost certain neither Pronger nor Savard – whose $4-million cap hit also runs the next four seasons, though his isn’t a 35-plus deal – will play again.
It’s been no secret in Philadelphia the Flyers have pulling this maneuver in large part to circumvent the cap. Now that it’s out in the open, will the NHL step in and put a stop to it?
My guess is probably not. Holmgren’s quote may have given the game away, but he could just as easily claim that’s only one man’s opinion. He’s not a doctor, and he can’t speak to Pronger’s intentions.
Still, it’s somewhat surprising the league has allowed this to go on for another season. You have to wonder if/when they’ll step in.
Per Campbell, both Holmgren and Pronger’s agent have sought some kind of compromise with the NHL with regard to the over-35 rule, but no exemptions are anticipated at this time. Perhaps turning a blind eye to the accounting tricks are the best they will do.
Pronger hasn't suited up for the Flyers in nearly two full calendar years now and continues to suffer the effects of post-concussion syndrome. While reports have been increasingly optimistic about his improvement, his pro hockey days are likely long gone.
Campbell’s profile on Pronger is worth a read, as it touches on a variety of subjects including how the defenseman has transitioned into a front-office role with the Flyers.
>> Chris Pronger, still at large [THN]