IT WAS late March when Chris Pronger knew there was a chance he'd be honored yesterday.
The Hockey Hall of Fame's general voting members ratified new bylaws and clarified bylaw No. 26 - which states an inductee must not play professionally for three years before becoming eligible - to allow players still under contract, but not playing because of injury, to be inducted.
Pronger last played in November 2011 because of postconcussion syndrome and hasn't officially retired because his contract as a player runs through 2017. But he need not wait until 2020, thanks to the hall's motion in March.
"At that point, I had been out for probably 3 1/2 years," Pronger said on a media conference call. "It was exciting to hear the news and understand that I was at least going to have an opportunity and a chance to get in."
That chance was fulfilled yesterday when Pronger got a call from John Davidson and Lanny McDonald, of the Hockey Hall of Fame, letting the 40-year-old former defenseman know he'd be going in with the class of 2015.
Pronger spent the last three of his 18 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He joins Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov, fellow defenseman Phil Housley and Angela Ruggiero, a three-time Olympic medalist for the U.S. women's team, as the five players to be inducted.
Peter Karmanos Jr. and Bill Hay will be inducted as "builders" of the game.
The induction ceremony will take place Nov. 9 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
It's been a busy week for Pronger, whose $4.94 million cap hit was still on the payroll of the Flyers when the NHL draft took place this past weekend. During an active weekend by Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, Pronger's contract was sent to Arizona along with defenseman Nicklas Grossman in exchange for forward Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick.
So Pronger, a five-time All-Star who won the Hart (MVP) and Norris (best defenseman) trophies in 2000 while playing for St. Louis, technically enters the Hall while an active member of the Coyotes. He's also a league employee, in the NHL's Player Safety Division. He's certainly the first to do that.
"Well, I think nothing I've done has been the easy way," Pronger said. "So I guess this would follow suit. I'm just excited and proud to be a part of this group."
Pronger was acquired by the Flyers from Anaheim, along with Ryan Dingle, at the 2009 draft in exchange for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first-round draft picks and two conditional picks. The Flyers gave Pronger a seven-year, $34.9 million extension that would run through 2017, when Pronger would be 42. His first year as a Flyer was during the team's magical run in 2010, making the playoffs in a shootout in Game 82 to losing in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.
But various injuries limited Pronger to 50 games in his second season. In 2011, Pronger was named captain after the Flyers shipped Mike Richards to Los Angeles. Pronger played just 13 games that season because of his concussion-related symptoms. He also was dealing with vision issues.
It was an era that started out with so much promise and ended quite abruptly. Despite all of that . . .
"I thoroughly enjoyed it," Pronger said of his time in Philly. "I think when you think about the Flyers, you think about the rabid fans, the style of play the Flyers are known for, but the way I played it was just a natural fit. Unfortunately, it was cut short, but we were able to get to the finals my first year there.
"I have fond memories of the organization, Mr. Snider and the management staff, and the coaches, the players. We had a great group of guys and it was a great place to play hockey. The fans are very passionate. Win or lose, you're going to hear about it. It was a great place to play and I had a lot of fun doing it."
It's fitting that Pronger be in the same induction class as Lidstrom and Fedorov. Pronger, the No. 2 pick in the 1993 draft by the Hartford Whalers, spent nine seasons playing for the St. Louis Blues. During Pronger's time in St. Louis, the Blues and Red Wings battled four times in the playoffs, in addition to their Central Division rivalry.
"He's very competitive," Lidstrom said. "He was a warrior out there on the ice. You knew that he was going to play more than half the game and he was going to be a tough guy to play against."
Pronger is known as one of the most physical players of his era (eight career suspensions). At one point during yesterday's conference call, he was asked whether he thought anyone in today's NHL played the way he did. Pronger said he didn't think it was possible to play with the same fierce, physical style he did because of the way head injuries are treated and protected.
"I just grew up in a different time and a different age where you did what you had to do to win a hockey game," Pronger said. "And now there's so much more to the game on that side that it's much more difficult to play on the edge the way I did."