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NHL breaks its own rules in Pronger hiring

Why move could have impact on Flyers

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. (Photo via Curt Hudson)
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. (Photo via Curt Hudson)Read more

WHAT'S THE BEST WAY to bury embarrassing news in the hockey world?

Send out a press release at 6:46 p.m. on a Friday, before a long, holiday weekend, that completely skirts the issues at hand.

That's what the NHL attempted to do last week, with today being Thanksgiving in Canada, to complete their icky hiring of Chris Pronger in the Department of Player Safety.

Conveniently, the press release failed to mention that Pronger is still on the Flyers' roster. Or that he is still owed another $5.15 million from the Flyers, payable through April 2017.

Instead, the release focused on the fact that Pronger is "one of the league's most decorated stars over his 18-year career."

Normally, I'd be the first in line to commend the NHL for hiring Pronger. He is one of the most intelligent players in the history of the game. What other hockey player (or athlete in general) would know (or admit to knowing) that the mayor of Newark, N.J., is Cory Booker - during a playoff series against the Devils, no less?

He won a Stanley Cup. He captured a Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Hell, Pronger skated in four Olympics and won two gold medals.

He is uniquely qualified in that he also has been suspended eight times - for everything from swinging his stick like a battle axe at Jeremy Roenick's head to kicking and stomping with his razor-sharp skate blade. Few former players know firsthand the impact of hits to the head, since concussion-like symptoms ended his Hall of Fame career in 2011.

Pronger is an honest man - even if he didn't always play the game that way. It's just that, safeguards or not, there is no way Pronger can offer his opinion to boss Stephane Quintal on suspensions without affecting the Flyers.

Any suspension levied against the Blue Jackets, Penguins or even Anaheim - the Flyers' opponent tomorrow night - could have a direct impact.

The optics aren't notional, as Gary Bettman suggested. They're real. This is in a department that already has been accused of impropriety, thanks to leaked emails from former discipline czar Colin Campbell in which he was complaining about calls by officials in games in which his son Gregory was playing.

It's a thankless job, for sure, but does the NHL lack such quality people that they couldn't have waited for Pronger until 2017?

They didn't even need to go that far, if they had enough interest in impartiality to take on the Flyers and force Pronger to retire and hit the team with his full $4.94 million cap hit. Pronger's contract, investigated by the NHL for circumvention from the day it was signed, has been buried risk-free since he played his last game on Nov. 19, 2011.

Ron Hextall said there was "never a chance" the Flyers' cap would've gotten hurt by Pronger taking the league job.

The league did nothing - and nothing to quell the clamoring from fan bases who know this situation reeks. In fact, they decided to overlook their own Collective Bargaining Agreement, specifically Article 26, which states that no player paid by a team may also work for the league.

In hiring for a position designed to uphold the rules, the NHL broke one of its own - and then skated away like nothing ever happened.

Emery pleads fifth

Asked what he saw in the third period in Saturday night's shootout loss to Montreal, Ray Emery took the high road rather than throw his teammates under the bus.

"It seemed a little bit scrambly back there," Emery said. "I'm just focused on stopping the puck. You have to ask coaches the systems questions."

Translation: "Yikes." Emery could have easily replaced "scrambly" with "unfair" and not one person would have batted an eye. He was the only reason the Flyers didn't lose in regulation after building a 3-0 lead.

Revisionist history

Flyers chairman Ed Snider put his own spin on the events surrounding Ilya Bryzgalov's still-ridiculous 2011 signing, in an interview with The Hockey News last week.

"We had five goalies in the playoffs the year we went to the final [in 2010], so I said to Paul Holmgren, and I said to the press - which probably was a mistake - that we can never have that happen again, so let's go out and really find a goalie," Snider told THN's Adam Proteau. "That's it. Then it was up to Paul. I didn't know Bryzgalov from Adam. If I start judging talent and saying I want this guy or that guy, then I'd better get out of the business."

Well, that's not exactly what Snider told the Daily News on June 21, 2011, in Las Vegas at the Palms Casino before the NHL Awards - 2 days before moving Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in separate trades to make enough salary-cap space.

"It had to be done," Snider said that day. "I was part of making it happen. It was hard to sit there watching the Stanley Cup final, knowing what [Tim] Thomas was doing for Boston."

Snider also must have forgotten to mention he sent his personal Gulfstream V jet to pick up Bryzgalov at JFK Airport after he landed from Moscow during the courting process. No free agent - before or after Bryzgalov - garnered such royal treatment.

Snider, 81, admitted in the interview his lack of patience over the years. Still, the craziest part about Bryzgalov's deal wasn't necessarily the dollars or the term or the trades to make room - it was that the Flyers outbid themselves. Bryzgalov was coming off a nice season but had little leverage. Not a single team in the league that summer, including the Coyotes, was in need of a starting goaltender.

Morin hurt

Flyers first-round pick Samuel Morin was taken to a Quebec City hospital in an ambulance yesterday afternoon after he was struck in the face by a puck during his junior game. According to GM Ron Hextall, Morin has a fractured jaw and is expected to have surgery today, when a timeline for his recovery also will be determined.