There has been a lot of talk about Chris Pronger in these Stanley Cup Finals, and for good reason. His puck-grabbing ways have somehow become one of (if not the) most entertaining storyline in the Finals, as he adds another chapter to the Pronger as villain narrative.
And he’s good at it. I’m not going to recount the number of nasty things he’s done on the ice (for my money, the elbow to Dean McAmmond’s head and his subsequent one-game suspension take the cake for dirty but tactically effective) or after the whistle, or even off the ice, but most people remember the list. His departure from Edmonton earned the enmity of one fan base just a few months after he was their team’s best player en route to the Finals, and he’s done plenty since to get into the bad books of other fans.
That said, as much as the role he plays (and the gusto he plays it with) get him into the spotlight, the biggest impact Pronger has on a team is what he brings to the blue line outside of his nastiness.
Pronger’s averaging more than 29 minutes per night, more than any other player in the NHL. He’s topped the 32-minute mark twice in three games in the Finals. In those three games, he has three points and a plus-3 rating. He always faces off against the best players the other team has to offer. He’s an offensive threat; he leads all defencemen in playoff scoring with 17 points, with the bulk of those coming at even strength and more of them coming on the road than at home.
Three times in five years, Pronger has played in the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m not one to evaluate a player based on team accomplishments, but he’s been the lynchpin of the defence in every case, a guy who plays half the game against the best the other team has and comes out on top.
And while grabbing the puck after the game or some similar display of poor sportsmanship is more likely to get him noticed than his tremendous play, the Blackhawks can handle it if Pronger snags the puck after every game. What they can’t handle is their best players getting shut down when he’s on the ice.