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A Hall of Fame intimidator, Chris Pronger now making different kind of impact in NHL


TORONTO — Chris Pronger took more than a few physical liberties with opponents during his playing career.

Intimidation was part of what made the big defenseman a Hockey Hall of Famer.

Disciplined by the NHL eight times, Pronger had an "open-ended budget" for fines and suspensions.

That's his past. Years later, the bespectacled Pronger now resembles a studious executive as he continues his work in the NHL's department of player safety.

Being an executive is Pronger's future, just as it was for previous Hall of Fame inductees Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake. Pronger was once known for making trouble, but now jokes that he's the "hall monitor."

"I'm learning an awful lot, not only on the player-safety side. I get to go to the GMs meetings and the board of governors meetings and kind of be a fly on the wall," Pronger said. "It's been a great opportunity to kind of learn the business side of the game."

Post-concussion syndrome ended Pronger's career in the fall of 2011 after he took a stick in the eye. He's still under contract through the end of the 2016-17 season and is on the Arizona Coyotes' roster after the Philadelphia Flyers traded his contract last summer.

Because it has been more than three years since his final game, the Hall of Fame clarified its bylaws to make Pronger eligible in 2015. He went in with fellow defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, Phil Housley and Angela Ruggiero, forward Sergei Fedorov and builders Peter Karmanos Jr. and Bill Hay on what Commissioner Gary Bettman called "a special night for hockey."

Fedorov thanked his wife, who is expecting the couple's first child, and Wayne Gretzky for letting the Russian star stay at his house during Fedorov's early days in North America.

Ruggiero recalled long drives all over California to play hockey when few girls were playing in the United States.

After handing out 61 plaques during his time working for the Hall of Fame, Hay read his own plaque with pride. Housley, after years of waiting, didn't miss his opportunity to bring his old Jofa helmet on stage with him.

Karmanos recalled the minor teams he dedicated his hockey career to, an impact that will last longer than his Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes. As expected, Lidstrom delivered a perfect speech to go along with his near-perfect career, dusting off the Swedish phrase that "Things never turn out the way you imagine."

PHOTO: CORRECTS SPELLING OF FEDOROV - Phil Housley, left, slips on his ring as he chats to Sergei Fedorov during a ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF FEDOROV - Phil Housley, left, slips on his ring as he chats to Sergei Fedorov during a ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

That's certainly true for Pronger, whose career was cut short. He still has problems with his eye but called the symptoms "manageable."

Flyers president Paul Holmgren thinks Pronger could still play if he was healthy, even at 41.

"In my opinion if he's still healthy today, he could still be a good player because when he had the puck, when he didn't have the puck, he could slow the game down," Holmgren said. "He just had that innate ability to control the pace of a game because of his size and his hockey sense and his ability to make plays, his ability to defend."

And then there was Pronger's nasty streak

"Probably helped a little bit, too," Holmgren said.

In player safety, it's Pronger's job to help Stephane Quintal and the rest of the department dole out fines and suspensions. Bettman said Pronger has been "terrific" in his job.

"I remember when we decided to bring him aboard and he wanted to be a part of it, there was some commentary about, how could you take a player as skilled and terrific as he was who had been disciplined eight times and put him in player safety?" Bettman said. "That's exactly what we wanted from him because he knows the game, he understands the game, he's committed to the game and I think he's thriving on the opportunity he's had to be a part of the game again."

Pronger said he has a greater appreciation now for the effect of concussions and other injuries than he did several years ago. In a fan forum last weekend, he said concussions should continue to get reduced as players become more educated.

"I see it getting better," Pronger said. "The game is very fast and reactionary. ... It's more the targeted, predatory stuff that we're trying to eliminate."

Pronger was known for some of that himself, by his own admission. And the NHL's rules have changed to prohibit some of the nasty stuff he was best at.

And yet executives still consider a place for players like Pronger today, in part because he's smart enough to adjust his game.

"The game's changed, but it's still a man's game," Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke said. "It's still belligerence and testosterone and fearlessness. These are still valuable commodities to us."

Pronger's eagerness to play on and over the edge is also important now as he polices the NHL.

"He's been very, very successful," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "He's added a different insight, a different perspective, which has been very valuable to Stephane Quintal and his team. Does it surprise me? Not at all because he's a smart guy, he's thoughtful about the game."

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PHOTO: Hall-of-Famer Chris Pronger, left, shakes hands with Hockey Hall of Fame officials prior to NHL hockey game action between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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