Yet Pronger was traded Saturday from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Arizona Coyotes in one of the most bizarre deals in league history. Pronger won't play again, and the Flyers get the salary-cap relief by sending him to a team that's not in danger of being up against the cap ceiling.
In terms of on-ice help, the Coyotes got defenceman Nicklas Grossmann in exchange for either a 2016 fourth or 2017 third-round draft pick and centre Sam Gagner, who they were going to buy out.
"They got a good player and we got some cap relief, so it's one of those deals that works for both teams," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said on a conference call.
Pronger last played Nov. 19, 2011 as his playing days ended because of a stick to the eye that led to post-concussion syndrome. Because his contract went into effect when he was 35, he couldn't retire or else the Flyers would have been saddled with his US$4.9 million cap hit.
Rather than keep him on long-term injured reserve, Philadelphia got Arizona to take him. Pronger is owed only $575,000 in each of the next two seasons, but GM Don Maloney insisted that part of the trade was "immaterial" to the Coyotes and not a way to cheat the $52.8-million cap floor.
"It's a bookkeeping issue, nothing more," Maloney said in a phone interview. "This was not something that we're saying that as an organization, 'We only need to spend to $48 million in actual cash because Pronger gets us to 53 or whatever."
Pronger won't have to move to Arizona or do anything for the Coyotes. He'll continue living in the St. Louis area and working in the NHL's department of player safety.
Because Pronger is an NHL employee, Hextall said the Flyers consulted the league and were told they could trade him like any other player. As a matter of course, they had to ask him to waive his no-movement clause so the trade could go through.
"He's actually told us that he'd be willing to waive it, so he didn't have a problem," Hextall said.
The Flyers saved just under $5 million by dealing Pronger and Grossmann, a big, shot-blocking defenceman with a year left on his contract. Philadelphia retained what Maloney called a small portion of salary (reportedly $500,000) in the deal, which saved the Coyotes money compared to what they would have paid to buy out Gagner.
Traded three times in the past year, Gagner has one year left on his contract at a cap cost of $3.2 million to the Flyers. The decision on whether to keep or buy Gagner out is now Hextall's.
"We'll have to look closely at our cap and see where we're at, and we'll make that decision and any other decision that we have to make," Hextall said. "So it could be a combination of a few things."
Meanwhile, Pronger technically joins his sixth NHL team after playing for Hartford, St. Louis, Edmonton, Anaheim and Philadelphia. As one of the most fearsome defencemen during his 18-year career, the four-time Canadian Olympian racked up 157 goals and 541 assists and won the Hart and Norris Trophies and the Stanley Cup.
Even though he hasn't retired, Pronger last played a game so long ago that he's eligible for the 2015 class of the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is announced Monday.
Maloney joked that, "as much as I was trying to insist that he goes into the Hall of Fame as a Coyote, I didn't think it was quite fair being on our books for two days." The timing is coincidental on a trade Maloney said was just part of today's cap environment.
"This is just business as usual," Maloney said. "It just happens to be one of the best defenceman that's ever played the game in the last 25 years. We're happy to have him to say, 'Yeah, we had Pronger. Yeah, he was one of our guys.'"
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