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Flyer Chris Pronger battles depression while injured

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger insisted he has not given up hope that he can return to the NHL, but his words did not mesh with the news release handed out by the team on Thursday afternoon.

Former Flyers captain Chris Pronger. (Yong Kim/ Staff Photographer)
Former Flyers captain Chris Pronger. (Yong Kim/ Staff Photographer)Read more

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger insisted he has not given up hope that he can return to the NHL, but his words did not mesh with the news release handed out by the team on Thursday afternoon.

In a wide-ranging, candid news conference at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, Pronger, who has been sidelined with post-concussion syndrome for nearly 16 months, talked about battling depression, updated his physical status, and revealed how he misses "going to war every night."

At the same time Pronger was saying his goal was to try to get healthy enough to return to the team, the Flyers gave reporters a release from a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center concussion expert, Michael Collins, who said that the defenseman had "significant vulnerabilities" and that he had advised him to not play hockey again.

In essence, Pronger, 38, cannot retire because if he did his salary cap hit would be absorbed by the Flyers. As it stands, the Flyers have him on the long-term injured list, giving them $4.9 million of cap relief each season until his contract runs out at the end of 2016-17.

Sporting a reddish-brown beard and wearing a charcoal gray suit, orange tie, and eyeglasses, Pronger answered questions for almost 40 minutes. Pronger said he has made improvements but still has concussion symptoms. He added that loud noises and bright lights bother him, "but not at the level it was."

"My eye is still troubling. It's not working properly. I don't have peripheral vision," he said. "I don't have a lot of the things that have worked well for me in the past. . . . I keep having to get stronger and stronger glasses."

Pronger's last game was Nov. 19, 2011, when he was bothered by the lights and crowd noise in Winnipeg. On Oct. 24 of that year, he was hit in the right eye by the stick of Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski.

"There's nothing different I would have done on that play," he said before making a joke out of it. "Maybe I could have slashed him over the head first."

Added Pronger: "Things happen for a reason. You sit there and you're depressed and you can wallow and do the why-me routine, and I'm sure I did for a few months when I didn't really do anything. But eventually you have to kind of turn the page and start trying to get better and start working out and doing the right thing to make sure you're there for your kids and your wife and your family."

The leader of the Flyers' team that made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, Pronger said he still gets headaches and that he visits an eye doctor twice a week.

Big part is depression

Flyers winger Scott Hartnell called Pronger "one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. His presence on and off the ice and in the dressing room [is invaluable], leading by example and leading by his words. You can't put a price on it."

Addressing the local media for the first time in about 15 months, Pronger said the "biggest part is the depression. How you feel about yourself. How you feel about the injury and how dark you go down."

He later said there was "some pretty dark days when the doctor was a little worried" about his emotional state.

Since he suffered the concussion, Pronger said, he has "leaned" on his wife and children - who are 4, 8, and 10 years old - for support.

"You try to make positives out of a tough situation and being able to be home and around them and watch them kind of grow up," said Pronger, who moved from Haddonfield to St. Louis last May.

Pronger, who was at the Wells Fargo Center to watch Thursday night's game against the Penguins, said he has also been helped by long talks with his agent, Pat Morris, and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.

But he said the injury has played with his emotions.

"You get agitated very quickly," said Pronger, who didn't rule out being a broadcaster down the road. "When the symptoms start piling up and you start getting a headache and it's loud in the house . . . There's bright lights, kids running around screaming, all that stuff. You are on edge as it is. You're [mad] that you are not playing the game you love, that you can't go do what you want to do every day. You are even more [mad] because you've got a headache and it's getting worse and worse . . . and your kid comes over and you snap.

"You're not being the father you want to be," Pronger added. "It changes your personality a little bit. I've gotten a little better with it. But I still get a grrr on from time to time and got to catch myself, take myself out of the room and make sure I'm a little better."

Pronger said he feels disoriented on occasion. "I can lose my train of thought. My cognitive skills are a little suspect at times," he said. "It comes and goes on certain days."

He said he misses the "routine" of going to the rink every day. "You miss the camaraderie, going to war every night and knowing that you accomplished something each and every night, the blood, sweat and tears. You miss playing hockey games and . . . that rush of adrenaline."

Pronger is able to do light workouts with weights, and was on the ice with his children last month, "pushing pucks around. But I've gotten [concussion] symptoms, and it didn't go very well."

Returning to the NHL "will be difficult, but the good things in life are never easy," he said. "You have to set goals and try to push yourself to attain them and reach them. This is no different. I have to keep working at getting healthy and working to get myself back to as close to 100 percent as I can get, and we'll kind of reevaluate after that."